Dismal June set to be wettest on record

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It's official: it was the wettest June on record in England, and the renewed downpours expected over much of Britain today will probably make it the wettest June recorded in the United Kingdom as a whole.

The unprecedented rainfall of the past four weeks and the floods which have followed have affected 27,000 homes and 5,000 businesses, causing damage likely to top £1bn, the Association of British Insurers said yesterday. But if you think this is a one-off, think again. According to a report to the Government from leading scientists, such weather is very much the shape of things to come - and it is likely to get worse.

Their forecast is that the risk of flooding is likely to increase substantially in future years because global warming will bring more intensified rainstorms like those experienced this week in some parts of Britain. Sea-level rise will also bring greater risk of flooding along the coast.

In their report on future flooding, commissioned by the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, the group of 60 leading experts has estimated that, if nothing is done to cope with the new risks from climate change, the number of people in areas at high risk from flooding would rise from 1.6 million today to 3.6 million. The potential annual damage could multiply from about £1bn to £27bn.

In response to the warning, the Government has initiated a comprehensive, new flood-risk management strategy. But last year Parliament's green watchdog committee said that funding for flood defences carried out by the Environment Agency was inadequate, needing to be doubled from £500m a year to £1bn. Last night, the committee chairman, Michael Jack, repeated the call.

Although the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is known to have asked the Treasury, in the current spending-review talks, for a substantial increase in funding for flood defences, Mr Jack said he understood the department was being offered no increase in funding as a whole. Any increase would have to be found through cuts in other parts of its already cash-strapped budget.

That may change. There is no doubt that the dramatic events of the past week in Yorkshire and elsewhere, with their toll of death, damage and misery, will give rise to hard thinking across government about flood-risk management in the future.

The rainstorms seen in some places were of an intensity expected only once in a century or more rarely still. They are consistent with the climate-change predictions of "extreme events" in rainfall over Britain (probably because a warming atmosphere has more energy and can hold more water vapour).

The Met Office confirmed last night that the June rainfall record for England had already been broken: 123.9mm of rain had been recorded by 10am yesterday, compared with the record of 121.2mm set in 1997 (in a list going back to 1914).

For the UK, 119.8mm had been recorded by yesterday, compared with the June record of 121.2mm set in 1988, but a Met Office spokesman said the rain expected in many places today was almost certain to break the record on the last day of the month. Anyone who continues to think the climate in Britain is not changing might care to note that the wettest June has followed the warmest April.

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