Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Intense rain - an indication of climate change?

As I type this the skies are leaden outside, and the early darkness to the evening is intensified by the dark dense green of the summer foliage which abounds in this part of the valley. Although quite windy at the moment we have so far been spared the very heavy deluges that places like Kent and the Midlands are enduring.

So the question is this: are the incidents of flooding an indication of the much talked about climate change? First we have to accept that there have always been extreme weather events in this country. I'm old enough to recall the Lynmouth flood disaster of 1952 and the devastating North Sea floods of the following year, both sadly with significant numbers of deaths. Yes we always have had freakish weather but to me it seems as if almost every year now some part of the country has such heavy rain that many properties are severely flooded.

One of the problems I find in making comparisons with yesteryear is that rainfall figures quoted are usually for a 24 hour period. What seems to be happening is that the rain is more intense but over a shorter period - I can't help thinking that 4 hour comparisons would be more meaningful. In fact the statistics I would find particularly interesting are year on year comparisons of intense 4 or possibly 6 hour rain conditions and also from insurers the numbers of homes so badly damaged by the weather that their occupants have to seek temporary accommodation elsewhere. Also how many cars get written off each year because of water damage. Publishing these sorts of figures would I feel give some sort of indication of the economic cost of the weather.

But this is where one has to be careful. As more houses are built, more gardens paved over for the parking of cars, more roads constructed then the potential is there for more flooding. You have to be cautious with statistics!

Climate change is certainly taking place (whether man made or part of a natural cycle is an argument I'm not venturing into at the moment!) and the increase in average temperatures, the reduction in frost and snow, the long periods of dry weather such as we had in April this year and the increased prevalence of outbreaks of almost tropical rain all indicate this. Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms seem to be on the increase as well.

One thing is for sure: the fierceness of the weather comes at some cost to our comfort and well being and affects the economy in numerous ways.

1 comment:

LeftAlign said...

Hi Brian

Thanks for your comment on my blog. It was good to know that I'm not the only one who's noticed this! I have been away from England for six years and since I got back almost everything seems different. It's hard to know sometimes whether England has changed or I have changed.

Like you, I was unable to find good statistics to prove that flooding has indeed increased. And pinpointing the cause is even harder. But I'm inclined to agree that climate change seems the likely explanation, at least for part of it (I'm sure that overbuilding, combined with the diversion and "hemming in" of many rivers, also contributes).

It's scary to think that if the scientific forecasts are correct, we are only seeing the very beginning of the changes to come. And yet most of us seem more concerned with who wins a TV talent show than with doing something about it. If things do get a lot worse, we can't say we weren't warned.

Of course, the science isn't 100% reliable yet. That's the nature of science: it puts forward the best hypothesis it has with the available evidence. If we wait for 100% certainty before acting, it will be too late. To me, if there's even a chance that our country as we know it will be destroyed or radically altered, we should take immediate action. Many of the proposed changes, such as reducing pollution, reducing energy use and reusing or recycling what we use, will have beneficial effects even if man-made global warming does turn out to be a myth. The apathy and inactivity in the face of such a large issue frustrates me greatly.

Anyway, thanks for writing about this in a more clear-headed, objective way than I seem to be capable of!