Flash flood fears in drought-hit areas


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The Independent Online

Much of England and Wales will get a further soaking today, with strong winds and heavy downpours expected to hit tonight.

Drought-afflicted areas are braced for the possibility of flash floods as up to 40mm of rain is forecasted to fall in places.

England and Wales have experienced the wettest week since December with forecasters seeing no sign of the rain letting up and supermarkets reporting soaring sales of wellies and umbrellas in the face of the deluge.

The Environment Agency has warned of the possibility of localised flooding across parts of the South West, South East and Midlands, East of England and Wales on Sunday as the wet weather moves in.

Many of the areas at risk of floods are currently in a state of drought, which is gripping the South East, East Anglia, the Midlands, the South West and south and east Yorkshire after two unusually dry winters in a row.

In its latest weekly drought briefing, the Environment Agency said all regions had now received above average rainfall for April, boosting river levels and providing relief for farmers, gardeners and wildlife in drought areas.

But groundwater levels remained low and the rain was not yet making a difference to the drought conditions, the agency warned.

And soil left dry by prolonged dry weather is increasing the risk of flash floods as heavy rain quickly runs off hard, compacted ground.

Aisling Creevey, a forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said the worst weather would be tomorrow.

She said of today: "There will be spells of rain and drizzle in southern England and Wales throughout the day.

"By late afternoon it will start to get heavier and there will be winds of up to 40mph by the end of the night. Cornwall, the far south west of Wales and coastal areas of Lincolnshire and northern parts of East Anglia will be hit. They could rise to 50mph."

She said tomorrow would be a "blustery, wet, very unpleasant day," with wind gusts of up to 60mph.

"There is already a lot of waterlogged ground and there will be significant rain totals meaning that localised flooding is likely."

Nine flood warnings were in place today for the North East, with properties at risk from rising water levels in a number of rivers including the Ouse in York. Householders were urged to take action to protect their homes.

Another band of rain looks set to hit the country on Tuesday.

The latest downpours come at the end of a particularly wet week for England and Wales, in which 42mm (1.7in) of rain fell in the South East and 55mm (2.2in) in the South West, which has now had 166% of the average rainfall for April.

More than two dozen properties were flooded in St Helen Auckland, Co Durham, on Thursday, while there were localised floods in Devon and Cornwall earlier in the week.

As a result of the rain, soil is much less dry and river levels are now normal at the majority of the sites monitored by the Environment Agency, with only the River Coln experiencing "exceptionally low" flows.

The rain is good for farmers and gardeners, while raised water levels and cool temperatures have eased the pressure on fish and wildlife in rivers, the Environment Agency said.

But the agency said most of the rain was being soaked up by dry soil, or running off and causing flooding. As the country moves from spring to summer most rainfall will evaporate in warmer temperatures or be taken up by plants as they grow.

And with the rain unlikely to help shift the hosepipe bans imposed by seven water companies across southern and eastern England, the Environment Agency suggested householders buy water butts this weekend to capture rainfall which can be used to water gardens if dry weather returns.

A man and his 11-year-old son were rescued last night after their car become stuck in flood water.

Two fire crews from the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service were called to the scene at Holcombe Rogus, Wellington, Somerset, at about 9.30pm.

Firefighters from Cullompton and Wellington winched the car to safety.

The rescue follows a similar incident on Thursday night at 9.41pm when firefighters were called to North Perrott, near Crewkerne, in Somerset where they found a woman and teenage boy hanging out of the windows in their car and grabbing on to the roof.

The vehicle had become trapped after it was driven into 3ft of flood water.

Fire crews donned dry suits and rescued the pair from the vehicle, taking them, uninjured, to dry land.

Flood alerts remain in place on the Lower Stour River and its tributaries between Wimborne and Christchurch and on the Middle Stour and its tributaries between Sturminster Newton and Wimborne, in Dorset which has seen the brunt of the rainfall.

But a temporary respite in the wet weather has led to three flood warnings being lifted by the Environment Agency on the rivers in Devon and Dorset.