Published on 15 Feb 2014 Sections

Waterworld: Britain’s wettest winter on record

From the storm surge in December through the wettest January on record, Channel 4 News tracks the stormiest winter in memory which has left two people dead and thousands flooded and without power.

5 December 2013: Storms and a tidal surge hit the east coast and some parts of the west coast particularly Wales. The Environment Agency (EA) issues 60 severe flood warnings across the UK.

The English east coast suffers the worst tidal surge for 60 years. The EA confirms the North Sea tidal surge is the biggest since January 1953 when 300 people died.

Communities as far apart as Scotland and Essex are affected by flooding.

Trains services are disrupted across the country including those run by Greater Anglia, Virgin, Southeastern and Northern. The Humber Bridge is closed and airline KLM cancels 104 continental flights.

The Thames Barrier closes to protect London from flooding caused by the tidal surge. It is the 17th time the barrier has closed.

Over two thirds of closures on the Thanes Barrier have occurred since 2000. It was closed four times in the 1980s, 35 times in the 1990s, and has closed 100 times since 2000.

12 December 2013: The EA issues new flood maps. They show the Somerset Levels at a medium to high risk of surface water flooding and that the risk of river flooding is high.

23 December 2013: Severe weather causes travel disruption across the UK as the Christmas exodus begins. Southern England is the worst affected with floods in Surrey and Kent causing power cuts to around 70,000 homes which last throughout Christmas. Power is eventually restored on 30 December. Devon and Cornwall are also severely affected by the weather with gales of 70 to 80mph.

24 December 2013: The severe weather continues to cause disruption and at least four people are killed. One man is killed in a car crash following a hailstorm in Cornwall. Another is killed in a pile-up on the A30.

Around 90 flights due to leave Gatwick are cancelled leaving passengers stranded after an electricity substation is flooded causing a power outage at the airport’s north terminal.

EasyJet is forced to cancel 83 flights, while British Airways has to cancel 22 services because of power cuts following the storm. The cancellations lead to severe criticism of the airport from passengers left stranded.

In Scotland, winds of up to 80mph cause further disruption on Christmas Eve, leaving some 800 homes without power in the north of the country. Snow also causes chaos as blizzards hit.

27 December 2013: Flood warnings are issued by the Environment Agency for the Thames, Loddon and Kennet rivers in Berkshire.

31 December 2013: The Met Office confirms that Scotland has seen its wettest ever December.

3 January 2014: The village of Muchelney in the Somerset Levels is cut off entirely from the outside world for the second time in as many years as the Parrett and Tone rivers burst their banks. The Somerset Levels are hit by the worst flooding for nearly a century. Some residents having only just recovered from the previous year’s flooding.

All our coverage in one place: UK floods special report

8-10 January 2014: Towns across Berkshire including Staines, Chertsey, Runneymede, Weybridge and Sunbury are flooded as the Thames, the Loddon and the Kennet swell.

17 January 2014: The EA issues 11 new flood warnings for southern England with Kent, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Surry expected to be worst affected.

Villages including Runnymede in Surrey are submerged. Roads including the A23 in Sussex and the A25 in Kent are closed in both directions. Train services in Kent are disrupted with Southern Rail and Southeastern trains reporting delays and cancellations.

27 January 2014: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson visits the Somerset Levels and the Northmoor pumping station where is met by local residents angry at the EA’s response to the floods and the fact that the Parrett and Tone rivers have not been dredged in 20 years.

30 January 2014: The Met Office confirms southern England has seen the wettest January since records began in 1910 as more than double the amount of average rain falls in the month.

Records for England and Wales dating back to 1766, show it has been the wettest December to January since 1876/1877 and the second wettest overall.

4 February 2014: Prince Charles visits the victims of the flooding in the Somerset Levels and wades into the growing political row about the lack of response, saying it was a “tragedy” nothing had been done for so long. One of the prince’s charities donates £50,000 to help flood victims. The government also announces a further £300,000 of emergency funding.

5 February 2014: The Great Western railway line to Cornwall is closed by storms and tidal surges off the coast of Dawlish, which destroy part of the sea wall and leave the railway line hanging suspended in mid-air.

Network Rail estimates it will be at least six weeks before repairs can be made to the line and it is opened again.

Channel 4 News on YouTube: UK storms 2014

The prime minister promises an extra £100m will be made available to fund essential flood and sea defences, the majority of the money will be devoted to making repairs.

Ten mliion pounds of extra government funding is also allocated to Somerset to enable the EA to dredge 4.9 miles of the rivers Tone and Parrett.

Homes are evacuated in Torcross, Devon, as high tides smash fronts of properties.

Part of Brighton’s West Pier collapses, 9,000 homes across the south west left without power and severe flood warnings remain in place in south west England, while the Met Office warns of more severe weather to come.

6 February 2014: David Cameron takes personal charge of the response to the flooding in southern England taking the helm of the Cobra emergency flood committee. Environment Secretary Owen Patterson has to undergo emergency eye surgery.

Cameron pledges to do “whatever is required” to help homes and businesses recover from the floods during Prime Minister’s Questions. The Royal Marines are drafted in to help victims of the floods.

7 February 2014: Lord Smith visits the Somerset Levels for himself and faces calls for his resignation from local Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger who calls him a “coward” and a “git”, and threatens to “stick his head down the loo”.

Lord Smith says he has “no intention of resigning” and that he is “very proud” of EA staff.

He adds “I will apologise for probably not having done enough to twist arms” to get dredging funds on the table last year.

The visit follows another night of heavy rain, which overwhelms local flood defences in the village of Moorland. Residents from nearby Northmoor, Fordgate and Saltmoor on the Levels have already been warned to evacuate on Thursday night.

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police adds that around 80 homes in Moorland have been evacuated, but police say around 30 residents have chosen to remain in their homes.

‘One of the big ones is that the pause in dredging that took place from the late 1990s, that was wrong, and we need to get dredging again’ David Cameron

The same day the prime minister makes a surprise visit to the Somerset Levels admitting lessons need to be learned and that dredging needs to begin.

He blames the cause of the flooding in Somerset on the lack of dredging.

8 February 2014: The River Thames bursts its banks and rises to its highest level in 30 years.

Gatwick Airport is warned of the danger of further flooding as water levels at the nearby River Mole and Gatwick Stream become dangerously high.

Local English and Welsh councils appeal to the government for help with the estimated £400m repair bill.

9 February 2014: There are now 14 severe flood warnings along the Thames in Surrey, Middlesex, and West Berkshire as levels continue to slowly rise.
Residents are warned widespread property flooding is likely at Egham and Staines and other stretches in the next day or two.

‘I would not wear a save Chris Smith T-shirt’. Eric Pickles

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles gives in interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show in which he says the government probably relied too much on advice from the EA and apologises unreservedly on behalf of the government for having done so.

He gives lukewarm support for the EA and its chair Lord Smith.

10 February 2014: Lord Smith fires back at his critics in an article for the Guardian newspaper in which he states the EA put £400,000 on the table for dredging after the Somerset Levels flooded in 2012. He adds this was the maximum amount of money the government would allow the EA to spend on dredging.

‘In a lifetime in public life, I’ve never seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces’ – Lord Smith.

He says the EA has saved 1.3m homes from flooding.

The EA has 175 flood warnings in place as another storm threatens to batter the south coast of England. River gauges on the Thames are their highest since being installed. The Berkshire village of Datchet is submerged underwater while hundreds of homes as far north as Shepperton are under threat according to the EA.

(10 February 2014 cont.): Sections of the Thames to the west of London are already flooded. They include parts of the river at Chertsey.

Homes are evacuated along the River Thames. There are warnings of more flooding further upstream in the Thames, with riverside communities in Oxfordshire and Berkshire feared to be vulnerable.

David Cameron visits victims of flooding in Looe in Cornwall.

Soldiers are drafted in to use sandbags to damn a breach in a canal near Reading, in Berkshire which threatens an electrical sub-station.

Soldiers are also drafted in to help repair Chesil Beach in Dorset, a world heritage site, returning 40,000 tonnes of pebbles that have been disrupted by heavy winds and tides.

Parts of Worcester are underwater after the River Severn bursts its banks with the city centre expected to be closed for at least a week.

Thames Valley police force declares a major incident in east Berkshire as does Surrey police.

11 February 2014: 70 people are evacuated from their homes as flooding spreads along path of the Thames in towns and villages including Chertsey, Wraysbury and Datchet and thousands more properties remain at risk.

David Cameron announces on Twitter that he will be giving a press conference to update the country on the government’s response to the floods.

Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed we will spend it. David Cameron

In Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire water levels are expected to rise by a further 30cm (12in) and levels will stay elevated in parts of the county for “some time”, the EA says.

At his press conference in Downing Street, the prime minister promises that money will be no object in the flood relief effort.

David Cameron warns there is no sign of the threat ending, saying: “Things could get worse before they get better.”

By the end of the day, 1,600 troops are to be deployed with thousands more available.

Cameron says: “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed we will spend it.

Mr Cameron announces the government is to get insurance companies into flood affected areas so “people can make their claims quickly”.

The government will also provide grants to help home owners build better flood defences and repair properties, the prime minister says.

Businesses affected by floods are to be given “longer to pay their taxes” while up to £10m will be made available to help farmers recover from the floods.

The prime minister also announces the formation of a new cabinet committee to deal with the recovery, the first meeting of which he will chair on Thursday.

13 February 2014: The Met Office says that that after the next storm on Friday (14 Feb) we can expect to return to “normal British winter weather”.

Read more: Weakening jet stream means less stormy outlook

14 February 2014: Weather Presenter Liam Dutton explained: “Being an island nation at the eastern edge of the Atlantic ocean, we’re used to getting storms during autumn and winter, but not relentlessly for such long periods of time. During this winter the jet stream has been 30 per cent stronger than average, according to the Met Office. However, finally there looks to be some light at the end of the tunnel.”

15 February 2014: A taxi driver dies in central London after her car is crushed by falling masonry. Meanwhile a cruise ship passenger dies after the vessel is hit by a freak wave.

More from Channel 4 News: From Land's End to Datchet - the UK storms where you are

Throughout this winter, the jet stream has been 30 per cent stronger than average, according to the Met Office. – See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/liam-dutton-on-weather/weakening-jet-stream-means-stormy-outlook/5923#sthash.n1BEbNqv.dpuf
Being an island at the eastern edge of the Atlantic ocean, we’re used to getting storms during autumn and winter, but not relentlessly for such long periods of time. – See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/liam-dutton-on-weather/weakening-jet-stream-means-stormy-outlook/5923#sthash.n1BEbNqv.dpuf

Since late December, a powerful jet stream – often travelling at around 200mph five miles above the Atlantic – has been spawning vigorous areas of low pressure and catapulting them towards us.

Being an island at the eastern edge of the Atlantic ocean, we’re used to getting storms during autumn and winter, but not relentlessly for such long periods of time.

– See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/liam-dutton-on-weather/weakening-jet-stream-means-stormy-outlook/5923#sthash.n1BEbNqv.dpuf

Since late December, a powerful jet stream – often travelling at around 200mph five miles above the Atlantic – has been spawning vigorous areas of low pressure and catapulting them towards us.

Being an island at the eastern edge of the Atlantic ocean, we’re used to getting storms during autumn and winter, but not relentlessly for such long periods of time.

– See more at: http://blogs.channel4.com/liam-dutton-on-weather/weakening-jet-stream-means-stormy-outlook/5923#sthash.n1BEbNqv.dpuf