Households around the UK are being urged to prepare for the risk of flooding as the country faces a higher chance of a wetter winter, experts said.
A Met Office outlook shows there is an above-average chance of the winter being wetter than normal over the three months from November to January, with the wetter conditions most likely in January next year and beyond.
With the potential for more wet weather and impacts from rainfall and winds, the Environment Agency is urging people to check their flood risk online, sign up for flood warnings and, if they are at risk, know what to do if flooding hits their home.
The call comes at the start of Flood Action Week, as the agency disclosed findings from a survey which suggested three-fifths (61%) of households in flood-risk areas did not believe their property could be affected.
The EA estimates 5.2 million properties in England are at risk from floods, with those at risk urged to follow advice to protect themselves by:
If there is a flood alert, prepare by packing medicines and insurance and other important documents and visit the flood warning information service.
If there is a flood warning, act by moving family, pets and belongings to safety, and turn off gas, water and electricity.
If there is a severe flood warning, survive immediate danger by following the advice of emergency services or calling 999 if needed.
Will Lang, head of civil contingencies at the Met Office said variability was the defining characteristic of UK winters, with a mix of all types of weather – as has already been seen with some flooding this autumn and a cold snap looming.
But he said that looking at the big global drivers which impact weather in the UK, such as the La Nina climate pattern in the Pacific, showed indications that the winter could see more prevalence of systems coming in from the Atlantic with milder, wetter and sometimes windier conditions.
The outlook also shows an above average chance of a milder than normal winter – which he said was in line with warmer winters driven by climate change.
“Cold weather spells and impacts such as snow do remain possible, and these cold weather impacts are more likely during the first half of the period, up until Christmas,” Mr Lang said.
“There is a higher chance overall than normal of wet conditions, and also that implies that there is a higher likelihood of impacts from rainfall and indeed from winds, especially later in the period, January and beyond that,” he said.
The Environment Agency (EA) said it has 250 mobile pumps and 6,000 trained staff ready to take action to protect communities from flooding this winter, while construction and repair of flood defences has also continued throughout the year.
In late October, when parts of the country saw a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours, some 79 households were flooded but more than 3,300 properties were protected by flood defences and action the EA took, it said.
But Caroline Douglass, executive director of flooding at the Environment Agency, warned: “Now is the time for us all to be vigilant, not complacent, about flooding.”
She said the EA’s previous investment programme protected 314,000 properties from flooding, defences helped protect nearly 200,000 properties during floods since 2019 and the organisation was investing millions in building new schemes and making repairs to keep communities safe.
But she warned that climate change was happening, increasing the frequency and intensity of storms, pointing to Storm Christoph and other recent storms in the past few years which broke records for rainfall or river levels, as well as the deadly flooding in parts of Europe this year.
“We can’t prevent all flooding – climate change is only increasing that risk – and today’s figures show that while some people are prepared, many are not.
“It’s vitally important for the public to go online and check if they are at risk, sign up for Environment Agency warnings, and know what to do if flooding hits,” she said.
Tony Rich, from the AA, urged drivers to allow plenty of time for journeys during heavy rainfall as roads could quickly become impassable, and to leave twice as much space from the car in front to allow for greater stopping distances.
He said: “Drivers should take extra care where roads dip, for example under bridges, as these areas are more likely to flood.
“Floodwater can be deceptively deep, and it doesn’t take much for water to get sucked into your engine. It can also mask other hazards in the road, such as displaced manhole covers, so if in doubt turn around and find another route.”