Further heavy rainfall is likely to cause more flooding in the new year, forecasters predicted, as people across Britain experienced a soggy Christmas Day.
Rain falling on already saturated ground meant water levels would continue to rise until Saturday, they said, as it emerged that nearly 500 homes had been flooded in the past few days.
The Environment Agency still had 150 flood warnings in place on rivers across England and Wales with a further 259 less serious alerts issued. Water levels were still worryingly high on some major rivers including the Avon, Trent, Thames and Severn, with the threat of damage still present in parts of Dorset.
In Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, some residents spent Christmas Day in temporary accommodation after being deluged over the weekend following two days of heavy rain.
The Environment Agency said 21,000 homes had been protected in recent days, while its Floodline has received 18,000 calls from anxious property owners since Wednesday.
David Jordan, the Agency’s director of operations, said: “Although the rain is set to ease a little in the coming days, the ground is still very wet and river levels remain high, so we would ask people to keep up to date with the latest warnings and stay prepared for flooding.”
Rail services are also continuing to be affected. Trains will not run between Manchester Oxford Road and Liverpool Lime Street until Thursday, while the line between Exeter St Davids and Tiverton Parkway will not reopen until Friday.
On the roads, the A27 was closed at Chichester and Essex Police sealed off the A127 from its junction with the M25.
John Lee, a forecaster for Meteogroup, said some parts of the Scottish Highlands had a white Christmas. But for the rest of the country it was wet and mild with more rain to come, particularly in the South-west and Wales where 15-20mm is expected.
“It is staying unsettled but the main area of rain will move away to the north and east – the rest of the week is looking like showers and brighter spells. I wouldn’t say anywhere would be staying dry,” Mr Lee said.
Despite the wettest April to June on record, 2012 will still be drier than 2000, which remains the UK’s soggiest year.
Meanwhile, bad weather off Brighton meant the traditional dip in the English Channel had to be cancelled due to a high tide and 30mph winds. But elsewhere, cold water swimmers were able to take the plunge. At Exmouth, 10 miles south of Exeter, more than 1,000 festively clad people packed on to the beach shortly before 11am. Dozens of hardy souls also took part in the Peter Pan Cup race in the Serpentine in Hyde Park in London.