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River Wear in flood again, Sepember 2008

The River Wear in spate again in mid September 2008. The main wear, normally visible about 4ft above the river is almost totally submerged. The river was 6” away from bursting it’s banks.

This was the scene in Croxdale in September 2008 as firemen begin the cleanup process after another flooding episode at The Honest Lawyer Hotel. The River Browney burst it’s banks and inundaded the hotel and motel rooms.

 

Further North in Northumberland, there was a disastrous flood in Morpeth on 6th September.

The centre of low pressure was slow-moving over Cent England on the 6th. There were continuing heavy falls of rain overnight across N England, with much of England, Wales and S Scotland seeing rainfall.

Rainfall on September 5th: Morpeth Cockle Park 80.7mm; Chillingham Barns 76.2; Westgate-in-Weardale 72.6; Stanhope 69.3; Copley 56.5; Whitley Bay 36.5; September 6th; Chillingham Barns 82.1; Westgate-in-Weardale 47.6; Spittal 29.1; Whitley Bay 26.7

Met Office : Heavy Rainfall Early September 2008

The Morpeth flood: 6 September 2008

The North East region, despite its general rain-shadow setting, is no stranger to floods (Archer, 1992) and Morpeth has endured severe flooding often: for example, in 1863, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1881, 1886, 1898, 1900, 1903, 1924 and 1963.

The event of 6 September 2008 was in many ways typical, and has been well-documented. The floods on this occa- sion were brought about by 24 hours of persistent rain causing the River Wansbeck to burst its banks, flooding the town (Figure 4) and causing damage estimated as costing £40 million.

The cause was in contrast to that of the previous serious flood, on 7 March 1963, which was due to the thawing of deep snow that had accumulated over the famously-cold preceding winter. The 2008 event was associated with a slow-moving but active frontal system. In this case the centre of low pressure lay to the south of the region exposing it to easterly winds, turning this normally sheltered side of the country into an exposed region and producing an estimated 80mm or more of rain in the pre- ceding 24 hours over the catchment. The distribution of precipitation over Britain on the evening of 5 September is illustrated in Figure 5: the control exerted by the slow-moving fronts across northern England is clearly seen.

An important causative agent was that the preceding summer had been wet, the Northumbrian region having experienced 200% of average rainfall in July and August, so that soil-moisture deficits were very low. The catchment consists of narrow, relatively steep-sided valleys, encouraging the rapid movement of water into the tributary channels upstream of the town; the Environment Agency estimated that as much as 54% of the rainwater took the form of this runoff. But these rains were widespread and many gauging sites in northern England recorded new record peak flows (Environment Agency, 2009) and it was the combination of the factors noted that brought about this disaster.

There was an almost identical repeat of these conditions in the town (whose motto, with an irony not lost on local residents, isInter Sylvas et Flumina Habitans or living between woods and waters) on 25 September 2012.

From “Regional weather and climates of the British Isles – Part 4: North East England and Yorkshire” by Dennis Wheeler, University of Sunderland, Weather July 2013.

Summer 2008 – Worst in Living Memory?

Morpeth Flood September 2008There’s a lot of talk going around about summer 2008 being the ‘worst in living memory’. Well, I hate that phrase, because it is basically worthless. The human memory is horribly fallible when it comes to remembering what happened when, especially regarding the weather. The memory filters out things, depending on the activity being undertaken. It also has no concept of what is ‘normal’, and how current conditions compare to that norm. It is purely a qualitative measure, rather than a quantitative one. In addition, substantial bias creeps in due to media stories from elsewhere in the UK. Some people also choose to disregard official weather statistics (ie the amount of rain, sunshine, temps recorded etc), thinking that their memory is perfectly infallible and that statistics always lie. These people always know best. There are quite a few around, and they always confuse ‘climate’ with ‘weather’. The fact that it has been cool for a couple of weeks means that climate change is indeed rubbish as far as they are concerned. Britain is obviously wetter than it’s ever been and summers are now always poor! So the hottest July since 1659, recorded just two years ago doesn’t count then?

Qualitively Poor

This month, August has been qualitatively poor, but looking at the numbers, it’s not been exceptionally so from a quantitative standpoint. Temperatures have been unexceptional during the day (only 6 days > 20C here), but haven’t dropped very low at night so the mean is still slightly above average for 1971-2000 (the latest 30 year ‘normal’ we measure against). Temperature isn’t the only criteria with which to measure things however. Rainfall this month has been way above average in most places, some getting 200% of normal. This sounds a lot, and feels soggy, but it is still well within normal climatic variation for any one place, and when we look back through historical records it occurs quite frequently. Sure, some records have been broken in Northern Ireland, but not everywhere. In Eastern England, any sustained wet weather appears like a deluge for us because we actually live on the dry side of the country and are used to lower daily rainfalls. August 2008 has only had one completely dry day here, so this makes it feel a particualry wet month, but it isn’t when measured quantitiatively, compared to the normal and it’s range of variation.

Sunshine in greatest deficit

Sunshine has been in the greatest deficit, and I put it forward that a summer without a good deal of sunshine feels much poorer than it really is. There can be poor temperatures and lots of rain, but lack of sunshine is the thing that makes people feel more down than ever about a summer. This summer has suffered from that, with August only yielding about 40% of normal sunshine. That feels dismal and is probably why people feel it’s the ‘worst in living memory’, but hands up who can remember dullness? Who can recall which months in the past were exceptionally dull? Nobody, because it’s not something that can in fact be remembered meaningfully at all. We have to rely on statistics for this one, and as a whole the summer of 2008 has been below average for sunshine, but compared to others in the weather record it isn’t exceptionally poor.

Worst in living memory?

What i’m trying to say is, let’s get rid of this ‘in living memory’ phrase, because it’s a meaningless, rubbish measure. People can’t remember more than a couple of years back at most, and if you asked them how two months compared weather-wise they wouldn’t be able to tell you. Numerical weather records are the only way to remove pure perception from the conditions experienced. Remember, meteorology and climate are sciences and therefore must be approached as such, not in a way that relies on newspaper sensationalism, or taking individual instances as representative of wider areas, over longer periods. Qualitative perception is dangerous and fraught with difficulty. People say conditions are poor, but how many know what the quantitative normals are so they can compare their perception to those normals?

For those wishing to look back to see how much they’ve forgotten or were unaware of, look at http://www.personal.dundee.ac.uk/~taharley/britweather.htm

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