storm christoph flooding in the uk

UK flooding events will increase by 15-35 per cent by 2080, model suggests

Image credit: reuters

Flooding in the UK could increase by an average of 15-35 per cent by 2080 due to the increasingly severe effects of climate change, according to a study from Heriot-Watt University.

Millions of people are affected by flooding every year in the UK and the annual cost of the damage comes to £1.1bn.

The release of the new study proves timely as just last night around 2,000 homes in Manchester and North Wales had to be evacuated due to widespread flooding from Storm Christoph.

According to the Met Office, there have been 17 record-breaking rainfall months or seasons since 1910, nine of them since 2000. The extreme rainfall has led to a pattern of severe flooding, with the 2015-16 winter floods the worst on record.

“The north and east of Scotland is facing a 34 per cent increase in the magnitude of flood events, which is significant,” researcher Dr Annie Visser-Quinn said. “We used multiple datasets and methods and compared the results, using the most up-to-date data available.

“The estimates paint a concerning picture for the future UK flood landscape, especially when combined with increasing urbanisation.”

The researchers looked at different flooding events, some that occur bi-annually and some extreme events that occur roughly once every 30 years. Across the UK, they found that the magnitude of the one in two year event could increase by 15-35 per cent.

“The north of England and Wales are similarly high at 25-28 per cent," Visser-Quinn said. "London and the Midlands have the lowest percentage increase. The magnitude of their one in two year events will increase by 18 per cent. Even a small increase can have a profound impact on urban areas.”

The scientists are unable to say whether the scale of one in 30-year events will increase as they couldn’t get the different models to match up on those more extreme events.

“However, we do think the bigger change will occur in the south and south west of England. That’s concerning, given these are the more extreme events,” Visser-Quinn added.

“Robust modelling will help improve our flood preparedness, which is why this work is essential. New climate data coming out later this year should be investigated as quickly as possible to inform the UK’s flood protection policies.”

Severe storms last year have added to a backlog in maintaining the UK’s ageing bridges and more floods are likely to make the situation worse. Councils hit hardest by the floods in late 2019 and 2020 face a combined bill of half a billion pounds to fix bridges in need of repair, E&T calculated from Freedom of Information (FOI) data acquired by the RAC Foundation.

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