Parched Britain? What a difference a year makes

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The Independent Online
The deluges of early August ruined thousands of holidays, flooded dozens of homes, washed out a major West Country road and drowned a farmer in Ireland. More downpours are forecast today and moaning about the weather has become completely legitimate.

A snaking band of rain about 100 miles wide hung over England, Wales and Ireland yesterday, stretching from the Pas de Calais to Limerick and shifting only slowly. Along its length intense downpours came and went, depositing as much as an entire summer month's worth of precipitation in a single day.

But by yesterday evening very little had landed on Essex and Suffolk Water's terrain, and the company said it had no plans to lift the nation's largest hosepipe and sprinkler ban, covering 1.7 million people.

In the Irish Republic, a 67-year-old farmer found dead in a flooded field was believed to have drowned after abandoning his car in the dark near the Co Clare village of Ballyvaughan and slipping off a wall into water five feet deep.

Thousands of disappointed families abandoned their West Country holidays after three very wet days. Along motorways and major roads the combination of heavy traffic and dangerous driving conditions slowed the flow to a bumper-to-bumper crawl of cars and caravans. For a time, a 15-mile- long line of traffic on the M5 between Weston-super-Mare and Avonmouth Bridge near Bristol came to a standstill.

All five of the region's counties from Gloucestershire to Cornwall have been deluged, along with south-west Wales, with fire-fighters having to pump out dozens of flooded homes and businesses. The Environment Agency last night issued 13 flood warnings for West Country rivers, and the A39 at Cannington near Bridgwater, Somerset, had its surface scoured off by the rush of floodwater.

Scattered heavy rain also fell in southern England with Crowborough, East Sussex getting 54mm in just three hours yesterday morning - the average for the whole of August . Rainfall in England and Wales overall was slightly below the long-term average in July, but June was the wettest since 1860. Sporting fixtures, shows and festivals were washed out - and with more heavy rain forecast several big weekend events were in jeopardy.

The downpours originate in a plume of warm, very moist air drifting eastwards from France. As it passes over Britain, localised clumps are forced upwards and hen dump their water as they rapidly cool.

"It's a ribbon of warm air with violent updrafts," said an officer in the London Weather Centre.

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