Friday, 31 October 2008

Freak hailstorm deluges Ottery St Mary

There can be no doubt about the most important story in my two counties yesterday and that was the freak weather of the preceding night that impacted on East Devon. It was a very severe thunder cum hailstorm centred on Ottery St Mary where most damage was done. Although Ottery took the brunt of the storm other nearby villages such as Feniton and Tipton St John also had a fair measure of flooding. The pictures I've seen on TV and on the internet give the impression of snow drifts but in reality the two foot deep or more "snow" was compacted hail. Although a belt of heavy showers had been forecast to come down from the north west during the night for some reason this very localised storm developed and stayed over Ottery St Mary for two hours or more. It has been suggested that up to 4 inches of rain descended on the town during the night with cars being moved in the floodwater and a number of people having to be rescued from their homes.

Rather like Boscastle in 2004 this weather event was both extreme and localised. Here in the Tamar Valley this October has been relatively benign and it takes some believing that the Ottery area has just suffered in the way it has. A couple of questions here: are these extreme weather events becoming more frequent or is it just a case of dimming of one's memory of what happened in the years, even decades, past? And if in truth extreme weather is now more prevalent can climate change be a factor.

Reverting to Boscastle for a moment, where it rained heavily on the night of the Ottery incident as well - enough to cause some flooding to a small number of properties, their huge storm occurred in the relative heat of August. It's also known that the topography of that part of Cornwall lends itself to the creation of such weather events, made all the worse by the steep narrow valleys leading down to Boscastle Harbour. The ambient conditions in East Devon this week are very different as we continue to be subjected to a cold stream of Arctic air.

On November the Fifth of course Ottery St Mary delights in having one of the country's more bizarre events when residents run round the streets carrying blazing tar barrels on their backs! Preparatory to that the town's carnival is scheduled to take place this Saturday. I understand that the organisers are optimistic that these celebrations will proceed as normal.

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