A huge tidal surge driven by gale force winds is set to crash into Northern Ireland’s coastline, where residents are preparing for the worst behind tens of thousands of sandbags.
Severe weather warnings are in place today with experts predicting one of the worst tidal surges in years, prompting more fears of widespread flooding.
A large multi-agency emergency plan is in place, with more than 30,000 sandbags distributed to residents since last Thursday to protect their homes.
Most properties at risk are in Sydenham, Corporation Street and the Docks areas of Belfast, with warnings of flooding also in place along the Ards Peninsula.
Makeshift flood defences have been put in place close to the Odyssey Arena and Titanic Centre.
Underground car parks in Belfast, including that at Victoria Square, are set to close today as a precaution. Victoria Park Primary School in the east of the city will close at 2pm.
The tidal surge is expected to hit at 2.44pm as winds of up to 70mph lash the province.
“With one of the worst tidal surges in recent years, we would urge members of the public to take extra care along our coastline at this time,” said Steven Carson, Belfast Coastguard rescue co-ordination centre manager.
“Please stay away from coastal paths, sea walls and cliff edges. These types of conditions, with choppy seas and large waves, are likely to be with us for a few days yet, so please don't take risks.”
The PSNI is leading the huge emergency operation. Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said the emergency services were preparing for worst-case scenarios.
“As a precaution we are planning for the risk of flooding in a number of areas,” said Mr Martin. “We would urge the public to remain on alert and to be mindful of their own safety — in particular to avoid coastal paths, be wary of possibly unstable harbour defences and to drive with extreme caution as many roads continue to be affected by surface water.”
Thousands of sandbags were distributed to anxious residents in east Belfast and Ards throughout yesterday.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long praised those who had helped distribute the flood defences.
“It is probably a sensible precaution to move valuables upstairs where possible and, if living in the affected area, keep a bag packed in case evacuation is required,” she said.
“Hopefully, the defences will not be breached, but it is best to prepare, just in case.”
“I would also repeat the warning to not remove sandbags from points in the city where they have been placed to prevent water breaching defences, as to do so places every home in danger.
“We have received assurances from several local churches who have offered their premises if needed.”
DUP MLA Robin Newton said residents had been helping each other to defend their homes and that this community spirit needed to continue.
“The conditions can change quickly and residents need to keep informed about potential hazardous weather situations evolving.”
A weather forecaster for PA MeteoGroup said the stormy weather should ease after today.
“We could be looking at gusts of up to 60mph, particularly in the afternoon,” he said.
“That could be higher for exposed coasts. There’s also a warning for heavy rain.
“There has been heavy rain over the past few days and further rain onto saturated ground could cause flooding issues.”
There were reports of flooding in coastal areas of Northern Ireland yesterday. Among roads closed were Station Road, Killough; Portaferry Road, Ards; and the main road between Rostrevor and Warrenpoint.
US freeze blamed for our relentless storms
By Jack Brennan
It may be thousands of miles away, but the extreme weather currently hitting the US is having a significant impact on conditions this side of the Atlantic.
Three thousand miles away, in the skies above the eastern seaboard of North America, lies the explanation of why the British Isles has been battered by storm after storm.
Cities on the east coast of America have been hit by plummeting |temperatures with up to two feet of snow falling in Canada and the north-east of the US last week. The storm killed 16 people and thousands of flights have been cancelled across the country since Wednesday. Parts of the American Mid-West are also expecting temperatures to plunge as low as minus 50 degrees celsius.
The atrocious weather has also affected the US States of Connecticut and Massachusetts, with schools forced to close and transport systems thrown into chaos. Airplanes were grounded at JFK Airport in New York after one jet skidded off the runway.
Just south of New York City extremely cold air from the north and relatively warm air from the south are coming together to create instability in the weather, thereby fuelling a stronger than usual jet stream. And that is why the impact is being felt on this side of the Atlantic.
The jet stream can be compared to a fast-flowing torrent of high-altitude winds dragging the recent sequence of storms towards our shores. Its unusual ferocity has supplied a series of low-pressure systems that have deepened on their approach to Britain.
Emma Compton, of the Met Office, said the conveyor-belt effect of the intense weather systems was also being intensified by a process of ‘positive feedback' — the power of the storms boosting the strength of the jet stream, and vice versa. “This means we get these storms clustering together, a stormy spell, then a respite, then another system coming through,” she said.
From behind their defences, anxious residents can only watch and wait
Analysis by Chris Kilpatrick
They know it’s coming but only time will tell if frantic efforts to safeguard their homes from flooding have been in vain. A tidal surge, predicted to be 3.8m in height, has been forecast to hit Northern Ireland this afternoon, with east Belfast in its path.
Sydenham residents have been on high alert since Thursday evening, with police warning them to move valuables upstairs and do what they can to prevent the potential flooding of their homes.
Worried residents yesterday gathered along the Connswater River ahead of high tide, anxiously waiting to see if makeshift flood defences would hold out.
Hundreds of sandbags have been placed four-high along the river since the first tidal surge arrived on Friday.
There was a smaller one on Saturday and then again yesterday.
A railway crossing over the waterway was the gauge for many as to how dire the situation could |become.
“If it reaches the rivets then it’s higher than Friday and we could be in bother,” one said. “Once it goes over that then the water is down the hill and into houses.”
Just before 2pm they breathed a collective sigh of relief when the swell of water failed to breach the bank. The main test will come today though, when a tidal surge, driven by 60mph winds, is ex
pected to bear down on the area after lunchtime.
Yesterday every property in the area had sandbags piled against the front doors. Younger residents were seen helping to place bags for their elderly neighbours.
From 10am nervous residents queued at Inverary Community Centre where each was given eight sandbags.
PUP representatives were on hand to offer assistance and Ulster Unionist and DUP members, including MLAs Michael Copeland and Robin Newton, spent much of the day in the area.
Belfast City Council staff and volunteers from Lagan Search and Rescue, as well as the Red Cross, were among those loading the bags into vehicles.
On an adjacent street, two fire appliances were positioned to pump water from housing areas if required.
Simon Megaw, operations supervisor of Lagan Search and Rescue, praised members of the service who gave up their weekend to help distribute the sandbags.
“It’s been constant since 10am when there were around 40 or 50 cars queued. The public are in good spirits and I think everybody is heeding the advice.”
Sandbags have been distributed from the site from Thursday evening.
There was a mood of camaraderie in the area but also a sense of nervous anticipation among those whose properties are in the front line of the storms.
Three neighbours were discussing tidal patterns, comparing data from weather apps they had downloaded onto their phones. David Donley, who has lived in the Inverary area for almost 40 years, said he had never experienced such alarm.
“The rain is a major concern too,” he said. “We aren’t taking any chances. It’s certainly the biggest risk I have seen.”
Republic and Britain reel from wintry blasts
By Neil Lancefield
The UK and Ireland are in the grip of rain, gale force winds and high tides, as severe weather continues to takes its toll on the countries.
The Irish Republic is in the midst of its worst run of winter storms for nearly two decades, with flood warnings in place in a number of coastal counties.
Heavy, thundery downpours are also expected to lead to local spot flooding inland.
Met Eireann last night issued a weather alert with gale-force winds and gusts of 100 to 120kph expected to batter the country for the next 72 hours.
Irish surf reports have been warning of massive swells moving with the storm and estimating waves in some areas could reach anywhere up to 65ft.
Across the UK, severe weather warnings are also in place, with further coastal flooding a major concern. The Met Office said last night that up to 40mm of rain could fall in higher ground.
A yellow warning has also been issued for wind as gusts of up to 70mph are expected on the west and south-east coast of Britain and the east coast of Northern Ireland today.
This will cause “exceptionally high waves”, the Met Office predicted. The Environment Agency issued 70 flood warnings covering every region, urging people to take immediate action as flooding was “expected”.
The agency estimated that about 220 properties have been flooded so far.
In Oxford a 47-year-old man died when his mobility scooter fell from a flooded path into a river.
- Worried residents can call the Flooding Incident Line on 0300 2000 100 or the police non-emergency line on 0845 600 8000 if they need advice or support around potential flooding.
- Additional sandbags for those in east Belfast can be collected from Palmerston Road Civic Amenity site from 10am.