January 2014 rains in the UK set numerous records. According to the U.K. Met Office, the south of England experienced one of the most exceptional periods of winter rainfall since at least 1766, the year weather records were first kept.
The magnitude of the downpour lead to a record number of warnings issued by the U.K. Environment Agency: eight severe flood warnings for locations along the Thames (down from 14 the same day) advising of a threat to life and property, and nearly 400 less serious flood warnings and alerts for other areas.
Dame Julia Slingo, the Chief Scientist at the UK Weather Office, described the link between the extreme rainfall and climate change as almost certain, although there was not “definite proof”. She also warned that the country should prepare itself for more similar events in future.
Thousands of UK citizens suffered heavy losses. They had to abandon homes and farms – even whole villages – to the flood waters for many days. These citizens were not cheered by a report from the Environmental Agency that new flood defences protected 1.3 million properties against flooding. They were upset that the Agency spokesperson referred to this outcome as a “success story”,
In a previous letter to my British Cousins, I noted the progress of the United Kingdom in adapting to the consequences of climate change. Regrettably the measures put in place were not sufficient to avoid these great losses.
One problem is that past experience of weather is in part the basis for precautions against damage from extreme weather events. Yet past experience is only a rough guide to what may happen in the future. Defences judged to be prudent protection against past weather may prove to be inadequate against the intensity of weather systems fueled by climate change.
This reality is one reason why reducing GreenHouse Gas emissions is necessary. That mitigation of CO2 levels is the only way to ensure that over the long run countries survive despite these extreme weather events.