April deluge 'won't halt drought'


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The Independent Online

Most of the UK faced heavy showers today - but this month's deluge of rain will not be enough to avert a drought across parts of the country.

There were scattered showers across almost all of Britain, with persistent rain in west Wales and Scotland, forecasters said.

Parts of the North East also saw heavy downpours, resulting in 0.5in (13mm) of rain over six hours in Durham and 0.4in (10mm) in Shap in Cumbria.

Nick Prebble, forecaster at the MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "There are still some fairly slow moving heaving downpours all over the country.

"Throughout April we have seen 175% more rain than would be normal, totalling 94.3mm (3.7in)."

However, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today said the rain would not avert the drought and water companies were right to impose a hosepipe ban.

She told MPs the Government was well prepared for this summer's drought as they had "seen it coming".

But Labour warned there could be a shortage of drinking water as more people were relying on bore holes in their gardens.

The Environment Agency has issued eight flood warnings for south-west England after some areas saw up to 2in (50mm) of rain overnight and this morning during what has been one of the wettest Aprils on record.

But speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Spelman said this month's deluge did not make up for the last two dry winters.

And people should keep their umbrellas to hand as the rain is not set to let up any time soon, Mr Prebble said.

"The rain will be a little less widespread tomorrow, with heavy thundery showers contained to central and south-west England and showers on Saturday," he said.

"However there is quite a big rainfall coming on Sunday, with a band of persistent rain coming north-westwards from France which will have reached southern Scotland by the end of the day.

"Much of the east and west will see very heavy rain on Sunday and most, if not all, of the country will see some rain."

The weather is good news for gardeners, who have welcomed the downpours.

Guy Barter, chief horticultural adviser at the Royal Horticultural Society, said: "The RHS and gardeners welcome the rain we have been having.

"Although several weeks of similar rain are needed to ease the drought and allow hosepipe bans to be lifted, the soil moisture levels are restored after a dry March. As soon as temperatures rise, plants will start growing vigorously.

"Established plants will need no watering, but newly planted plants will need watering when summer arrives. Water butts will have filled nicely by then, even those bought in the recent rush, and their contents can be used in the sunny summer we hope for, when these chilly April showers are long forgotten."

Last night high winds tore through a town, blowing the roof from one home and damaging others in what residents described as a "mini tornado".

Warwickshire Police said a number of properties suffered structural damage as winds battered Rugby from around 6pm last night.

A spokeswoman said: "One house in Adams Street is reported to have had the roof blown off, and another suffered extensive damage when wind blew the chimney stack down.

"Telephone lines have also been blown down in the high winds, which some residents are describing as like a mini tornado."

Residents in Lawford Road reported having tiles blown from their roofs by the "powerful gusts", the spokeswoman added.

No-one was injured by the adverse weather, but police advised motorists and pedestrians in the town to beware of debris from the buildings which was blown into surrounding streets.

The county buildings inspector has been called to assess the damage to any affected buildings.

MeteoGroup forecaster Paul Knightley said it was quite probable a tornado did occur in the area.

Meteorologically speaking, he said, there is no such thing as a "mini tornado" as there are varying degrees of strength when talking about tornadoes, but they are defined as violently rotating columns of air pendant from a thunderstorm cloud, but not their size.

An investigation has yet to be carried out by meteorologists, but damage reported by residents in Rugby that showed a contained and focused area of damage could mean it was a tornado.

Mr Knightley said: "Conditions were reasonably favourable yesterday for tornadoes so it's quite possible that it was.

"If you get an intense swathe of damage it tends to be, or is more likely to be, a tornado.

"If you had an area of damage with no real focus to it, it could just be air dropping out of a storm."

Torro, the tornado and storm research organisation, suggested there was a risk of tornadoes for parts of England yesterday, he added.

Another tornado is reported to have happened near Halstead in Essex at around 4pm yesterday.