Was last year’s flooding a sign of more to come?

Britain could face increasing flooding in the near future.

According to Professor Stuart Lane from Durham University, over the past 200 years Britain has oscillated through wet and dry periods.

The period between 1960 to 1990 was relatively flood-free, but Lane thinks we are now re-entering a wet period.

Last year’s flooding in Gloucester, Hull and many other parts of the UK cost in excess of £3bn.

The flooding sparked to government to commission the independent Pitt Review. The final recommendations from the review are due to be published this summer.

Professor Lane said the link made between last year’s floods and climate change is wrong.

“In the future we expect to see more rainfall in the winter and more intense rainfall and we can say that's likely to lead to an increase of flooding in the UK

Nicola Patmore, RMS

In fact, the opposite of last summer’s flooding is to be expected in future if climate change predictions prove correct.

Summers will become drier and winters wetter, according to Lane.

Nicola Patmore, a senior research analyst at RMS, agreed. “In the future we expect to see more rainfall in the winter and more intense rainfall and we can say that’s likely to lead to an increase of flooding in the UK.”

A “huge increase” in sea levels this century is already leading to more coastal flooding and this is expected to continue.

While climate change should cause more flooding in the winter months, the summer is likely to become much drier in the UK – particularly in the Southeast, explained Patmore.

Last year’s flooding was due to the movement of the jet stream, a fast flowing air current that sits at the boundary between warm moist air from the south and cool dry polar air.

“Direction must come from government and a new approach is needed for planning and making people aware of the risk of flooding

Sir Michael Pitt

Normally, the jet stream weakens and shifts north of the UK in the spring and summer.

This didn’t happen last year. It remained south which led to waves of low pressure passing across the British Isles, bringing lots of rain with it.

May to July 2007 was the wettest summer in the UK since records began in 1766. According to the UK Met Office, rainfall for the three months was 387.6mm, compared to the 1971-2000 average of 186.3mm.

In his 160-page interim report published in December 2007, Sir Michael Pitt warned that flood risk is “here to stay” in the UK and that last year’s floods were a “wake-up call”.

The Review said the government must take the lead in making the case for adapting to climate change, particularly in reducing the potential impacts on communities.

Speaking in April at a conference on Critical National Infrastructure, Pitt said: “Events of this kind are likely to become more frequent as the climate changes. That is why we must adapt to increasing risks from flooding – more effectively and more quickly. Direction must come from government and a new approach is needed for planning and making people aware of the risk of flooding.”

With climate change and Professor Lane’s belief that the UK has entered a “flood-rich” period, the final Pitt Review recommendations should at least provide a starting point for dealing with tomorrow's Monsoon Britain.