Last winter's floods 'most extreme on record' in UK

Carlisle was devastated by flooding in December. Credit: ITV Border

Last winter's floods were the UK's most extreme on record, experts have said.

An appraisal of the winter floods of 2015/2016, published on the first anniversary of Storm Desmond, reveals it ranks alongside the devastating flooding of March 1947 as the largest event of at least the last century.

November 2015 to January 2016 was the wettest three-month period in records dating back to 1910, while December was both the wettest and on average, the warmest on record for the UK.

The highest ever rainfall recorded in the UK was seen at Honister Pass in the Lake District with 341.4mm (13.4 inches) falling in the 24 hours leading up to 6pm on December 5 2015, as Storm Desmond hit.

The storm, was part of a persistent pattern of weather which also included the major storms of Abigail, Frank and Gertrude.


Insurance bill from Storm Desmond

Important roads like the A595 through the Lake District were destroyed. Credit: ITV Border

Many rivers across northern England and Scotland saw record peak flows, as did the Mourne in Northern Ireland, the study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in collaboration with the British Hydrological Society found.

The rivers Eden, Tyne and Lune in England saw record peaks of around 1,700 cubic metres per second - a volume of water that could fill London's Royal Albert Hall in less than a minute, the experts said.


Homes and businesses flooded in December 2015


Homes protected by defences

Lead author Terry Marsh from CEH said:

At a national scale the winter floods of 2015/16 were the most extreme on record.

Lead author Terry Marsh
Homes and businesses in Kendal were ruined by the flooding. Credit: ITV Border

Cumbrian resident Dr Ed Henderson, a co-author of the review from the British Hydrological Society, said the effects of the flooding were personal.

Thousands of Cumbrians, like people in other flood-affected parts of the country, have seen their lives upturned. Many have experienced life-changing financial losses and incredible stress.

Dr Ed Henderson, British Hydrological Society

The storms and flooding last winter follow the 2013/2014 flooding in southern England and other severe events including the 2005 and 2009 floods in Cumbria.

Natural variability from year to year makes it hard to attribute the trend towards higher river flows in the last five decades to climate change, but recent studies do point towards man-made global warming playing a role in recent floods, report co-author Jamie Hannaford from CEH said.

And along with March 1947, which saw heavy rain and snow thaw after a freezing winter, causing flooding, the 2015/2016 floods are the largest such event of the last 100 years, the study said.

Last winter's floods were more extreme in scale, but the 1947 events had a greater impact in terms of homes flooded and crops destroyed, in a country recovering from war and with only rudimentary flood defences.