Nature: Risk of the great deluge abates

Weather experts and environmental agencies had been bracing themselves for severe flooding from tides affected by the movements of the Moon and the Sun. But as Jojo Moyes found, low winds mean that homeowners on the coast can breathe easy.
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The Independent Online
An extraordinary combination of astronomical events which threatened to cause major flooding along Britain's coastlines this week look set to pass without wreaking destruction.

From today until Saturday, the effects of the Sun, Moon and the Earth's rotation will join to produce the highest "astronomic tides" seen in Britain for 40 years. Combined with high winds, these were predicted to cause "surges" leading to unusually high tides and extensive flooding.

The unusual conditions will peak this morning and any high winds during could produce tides as much as 3 metres above normal levels. The Environment Agency has issued a warning and asked people to be aware of the flood warning service. The Thames Barrier was raised earlier this week for checks in preparation for high tides tonight and tomorrow.

But forecasters are now predicting that the weather over the next few days will be kind, meaning that tides should not reach flood level. "Over the next four days we've got a nice, big, fat high-pressure system over the British Isles which will produce light winds, so there won't be anything that the sea defences cannot cope with," said PA WeatherCentre forecaster Philip Eden.

The tide levels and weather forecasts are entered into a computer system made by the Proudman Oceonographic Laboratory (POL), which then predicts conditions 36 hours ahead. A spokeswoman saidthat latest predictions "were certainly not showing anything desperate yet".

Peter Borrows, flood defence manager at the Environment Agency, said: "These very high astronomical tides in themselves don't present a threat. It is only if on top of these tides we get a surge because of adverse weather conditions that we start to worry."

A spokeswoman for the agency said earlier that only the lowest-level "yellow" precautionary flood warning had gone out in the South-west of England for today, with other parts of the country confident they would escape flooding.

This week is unusual because several different astronomical cycles which rule the tides all peak. Dave Smith, head of the Storm Tide Warning Service at the Met Office, said: "The astronomic tides are going to be near to their highest value in certain locations around the UK.

"Every year at around this time, during the equinoxes when the Moon is closest to the Earth, you have this big variation in the cycle."