Storm Dennis: Heavier rainfall is ‘100% for certain’ linked to climate crisis, experts warn

Minister admits government cannot protect every household from extreme weather

Conrad Duncan
Monday 17 February 2020 22:27 GMT
York flooded as River Ouse bursts banks in wake of Storm Dennis

Heavier rainfall from storms is “100 per cent for certain” linked to climate change and brings an increased risk of flooding to the UK, experts have warned.

The warnings came as George Eustice, the new environment secretary, admitted that the “nature of climate change” means the government cannot protect every household from extreme weather, such as recent storms which have brought flooding to parts of the UK.

“We’ll never be able to protect every single household just because of the nature of climate change and the fact that these weather events are becoming more extreme,” Mr Eustice told Sky News.

Research has previously shown that conditions in Storm Desmond, a winter storm in 2015, were made 40 per cent more likely due to climate change.

Over the weekend, Storm Dennis battered the UK with heavy rain and strong winds, just one week after Storm Ciara, with more than a month’s worth of rain falling in 48 hours in some places.

Dr Michael Byrne, a lecturer in climate science at the University of St Andrews, has warned that future storms will bring more rain due to climate change.

“These storms are nothing new, going back 100 years, but, because we are now more than 1C warmer as a whole versus pre-industrial times, every degree means 7 per cent more water in the atmosphere and more rain in these heavy rain events,” Dr Byrne said on Monday.

“When they come, they bring more rain, 100 per cent for certain, because of climate change.”

If temperatures rise by 3C - an increase that the world is currently on track for – storms could bring about 20 per cent more rain than they would have done without climate change.

This, Dr Byrne said, would put a huge strain on flood defences.

Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, also warned that the UK is “clearly not ready” for more extreme storms.

“These types of events are most likely a taster of what is to come and we should be paying very close attention to that,” Ms Cloke said.

“Clearly, we are not ready for them. We’ve always seen these big floods but we do keep seeing these records being broken, it’s very concerning.”

She added that there are now more people living in areas at risk and the UK needs to be “using the whole toolkit of things to prepare for floods”.

These measures include looking after soil so it can soak up water and does not run off the land to block watercourse, and putting in “leaky dams” made of wood in streams to slow the water’s flow down to the towns.

Ms Cloke also warned against building on flood plains and said that, where necessary, better joined-up planning was needed to protect homes from floods.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP, has called for the government to “get real about investing in appropriate flood defences” following recent storms.

Additional reporting by PA

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