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« King says Met Office has it all wrong | Main | Calculated ambiguity »

Rain, storm, flood; same old

The hype of the current period of wet and stormy weather is quite remarkable, but my perception is that the reality is rather more prosaic than the doommongers would have us believe. Some homes have been flooded; some stormwatchers have tragically lost their lives. But armageddon it most certainly is not.

And underlining this point, reader Martyn points us to the tale of the great storm of 1703, told at the time by Daniel Defoe and retold in this article in History Today.

The storm struck on a Wednesday evening and in London Daniel Defoe had a narrow escape in the street when part of a nearby house fell down. On the Friday, the 26th, the wind began to blow even harder and when he checked his barometer, he found the mercury sunk lower than he had ever seen it. After midnight the gale swelled to such force that it was almost impossible to sleep. The noise of the chimneys of neighbouring houses coming down made the family fear that their own solid brick house might collapse on their heads. But when they opened the door to escape into the garden, they saw tiles hurtling through the air, some travelling thirty or forty yards and then driven eight inches deep into the ground. The Defoes decided to stay inside and trust in God’s providence.

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Reader Comments (18)

More storms and drought forecast

As farmers continued to plough in drought-stricken crops and water boards prepared to conserve stocks, Professor Hubert Lamb, a leading weather expect, said at the weekend that the recent conditions could be here to stay.

Instead of the plentiful but gentle rains we are used to in Britain, we could be faced with a successions of long dry periods, broken by violent storms.

Professor Lamb, of the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, said in an interview that a drop in the frequency of westerly winds has shaped the weather...

[From the Guardian, June 1974]

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:48 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

History is not a subject taught with prominence in schools anymore; hence a sad disrespect for history in our modern times.

Jan 6, 2014 at 8:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

I haven't seen any of the armageddon forecast over the last couple of weeks for the south-west. Yes, we've had rain and wind, but nothing out of the ordinary. I have 13 steps up from the river, and the highest I have ever seen it was up to 10 steps in 2008. The recent high has been nearly 2 steps, so on my scale (which is non-linear) of 1 to 10, we are not even at 2. Most of the damage in the SW appears to have been due to high tides coinciding with strong south-westerlies. Most inland flooding has been attributed by local farmers (eg in the Somerset levels) to the EA not dredging rivers like they traditionally did, or culverts not being cleared. The people who have lost their lives appear to have been doing stupid things, like going in the sea when under the influence, or walking too close to the sea-front.

I would say that on a scale of 1 to 10, the hype has been about 9 and the reality has been no more than 3.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:04 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I heard some people from Dorset on the radio saying they'd been told to evacuate their home but had stayed there, because as they all said "We've seen worse storms than is before". None of the homes appear to have been damaged.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Paul Matthews: Hubert Lamb, a voice from the day when climate science was a slow and unsexy exercise. Prepare yourselves for an onslaught of weather driven political hyperbole. Its an easy excuse for a historic lack of investment. Remarkably unreported however is that sea defences have saved thousands of homes from inundation.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterTrefor Jones

Those people were from one part of Portland, just as you come off Chesil Beach there's a spot with a loooong history of flooding on spring tides when the wind pushes them higher. They put in more defenses some time ago and, generally, they tend to work ok.

What made me laugh was they way the report talked about *Portland* being evacuated, as if it was the whole island...

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Crook

I have yet to hear the word unprecedented used with regard to these storms, by any qualified sources."Worst since ......" Or similar statements. No doubt greenie politicians will soon blame AGW though.

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Talking of Hubert Lamb, here's what he said in 1994, once alarmism had really taken hold:

The idea of climate change has at last taken on with the public after generations which assumed that climate could be taken as constant. But it is easy to notice the common assumption that man's science and modern industry and technology are now so powerful that any change of climate or the environment must be due to us. It is good for us to be more alert and responsible in our treatment of the environment, but not to have a distorted view of our own importance.

Thanks to tonyb for that Christmas message. :)

Jan 6, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

No shortage of storms worse than the recent ones:

30 Jan 1607, "Bristol Channel Floods", est. 2000 dead, disputed cause (insufficient info)
3 Sep 1691, "Plymouth Sound Storm", 900 dead
26 Nov 1703, "Great Storm of 1703", 8000 dead
24 Dec 1811, "Christmas Eve Storm", 1900 dead
6 Jan 1839, "Night of the Big Wind", 250 dead
5 Feb 1850, "Great Storm of 1850", unknown deaths but many shipwrecks
26 Oct 1859, "Royal Charter Storm", 748 dead
10 Feb 1871, "Great Gale of 1871", 70 dead
14 Oct 1881, "Eyemouth Disaster Storm", 189 dead
26 Jan 1884, "Lowest MSL Pressure in British Isles", "considerable damage to trees and buildings"
26 Feb 1903, "Ulysees Storm", ??? ("Some Deaths" and shipwrecks)
6 Jan 1928, "1928 Thames Flood", 14 dead
23 Nov 1928, "Western European Windstorm", up to 38 dead, not all in UK
31 Jan 1953, "North Sea Storm and Flood", 531 dead
15 Jan 1968, "1968 Scotland Storm", 20 dead
16 Oct 1987, "Great Storm of 1987", 22 dead

Interesting to note how relatively few deaths are attributed to the most recent storms, thanks to improved resilience, better monitoring and warning systems, emergency services, weather forecasting etc - although the 1953 storm stands out in terms of number of fatalities in that regard.

It could be argued that this winter has been unusual in having many small storms, but the problem is that such events may not have been recorded earlier in history to the same extent. It isn't without precedent in the modern era (e.g. 1981 had a succession of smaller winter storms).

Jan 6, 2014 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

It would be good to see tonyb posting here, especially on the subject of extreme weather events. If anyone can put things into perspective, he can.

Jan 6, 2014 at 10:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterTC

The great storms of 1287 were so severe that they radically modified the coastline of Kent and Sussex and diverted the mouth of the Rother.

Interesting chronological summary tables by century are given in

Jan 6, 2014 at 11:35 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

I note on the Andrew Made show this Sunday that Helena Kennedy referred to the cold weather in the USA as a result of global warming‼

Jan 6, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Porter

Pharos, lots of good info at that site (much from H H Lamb of course!) including:

"St. Mary's Wind": A severe gale / storm (at least as powerful as that of October 1987) from between south and west commenced on the 15th (23rd new-style) January 1362 and lasted for about a week - affecting large areas of southern Britain. A large number of buildings were blown down or damaged, including St. Pancras Church, the church of Austin Friars in London, Norwich cathedral and the (original) Abbey Gateway in St. Albans. Damage also to shipping. The "exceptionally 'severe gale' caused great destruction - buildings, towers, trees, wind-mills etc., all 'thrown down' according to contemporary chronicles. Noted by English, Scottish & Irish sources.

Must have been a lot of anthropogenic global warming in January 1362!

Jan 6, 2014 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpence_UK

H H Lamb's Climate, History and The Modern World is still IMHO well worth a read. It's surely a tragedy that the UAE's CRU - which he both set up and acted as its first director - should have become so profoundly corrupt.

Jan 6, 2014 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

I was filming the high tide on the River Lune on Sunday, where the rising tide meets the weir and normally goes no further. This time it was over the weir and the walkway by the river was just awash. At one of the two zigzag ramps down to the path from the road above there is an inset stone engraved "Height of Flood, March 17th 1907". The water on the path was 4.5 ft below it.

Jan 6, 2014 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Churchill

Jan 6, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Porter says

I note on the Andrew Ma[rr] show this Sunday that Helena Kennedy referred to the cold weather in the USA as a result of global warming‼

This was just after a discussion of the big freeze in North America. I was longing for someone to ask how global warming could cause record low temperatrues in the US and record sea ice in Antarctica, but of course nobody did; there are certain questions you don't ask on the BBC.

Jan 6, 2014 at 7:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Peacock

have the MET changed the TV weather maps again ? (i may have missed the roll out)
seems they now show a bit more of the world around the UK, good thing if they include freezing area's along with the hotter than ever.

ps. an inprovement but what happened to the really crappy maps which confused us all ? (and cost a lot)

Jan 7, 2014 at 1:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

@Jan 6, 2014 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB
Dave B,
I think the CRU has done exactly as Prof. Lamb intended.

Jan 7, 2014 at 10:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

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