Belfast Telegraph

As Northern Ireland counts cost of Storm Frank, forecasters warn of Gertrude

By Linda Stewart

While the country is still reeling in the wake of Storm Frank, the next named storm, Gertrude, could hit soon.

And there will be no break from the gloom as 2016 is set to have a wild start, with the Met Office issuing a series of yellow warnings for severe weather.

Northern Ireland is counting the cost of storms and floods after the fourth wettest December since records began.

Forecasters have warned rain is expected to turn to sleet and snow later, with accumulations of several centimetres possible over hilly areas.

The public has been advised to take care travelling because of the risk of ice and lying snow.

A further yellow warning has been issued for Sunday, focusing on a slow-moving front bringing heavy outbreaks of rain, with totals likely to exceed 40mm in places, especially over hills.

The Met Office warned of an increased risk of both surface and river flooding, as well as some disruption to transport.

The Belfast area and counties Down and Armagh are likely to see the worst of the rainfall.

This week, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan activated an emergency scheme for householders affected by flooding. It is understood that councils have notified his department of a number of eligible households.

Up to 21,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity and more than 270 roads were cut off by floodwater and fallen trees during the worst of the weather.

Planes had to be diverted from both Belfast airports because of gale force winds, with some passengers waiting almost two hours to disembark safely. The fire service also assisted 18 drivers who became stranded.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) spokesman John Compton said it was too early to gauge the cost of storms Eva, Desmond and Frank to our economy, but they are thought to have cost the UK economy up to £3bn.

That figure does not include any government spending on flood defences, he added.

"One of the issues in particular is the number of small businesses impacted and how quickly they are likely to get back into trading," Mr Compton said.

"What we do know is that in England a significant number of both households and small businesses were uninsured because they had flooded before.

"Either companies had declined to insure them or they couldn't afford the premiums."

PWC said December's storms were unusual because they brought a significantly higher number of commercial insurance claims compared to personal lines insurance claims - because far more towns and cities were hit.

One Fermanagh householder said her brother, who farms land by Upper Lough Erne, had been unable to move livestock for weeks because of flooding.

Imelda Maguire from Derrylin added that people in west Fermanagh were struggling to go about their daily lives as so many roads were closed. She called on the authorities to open the sluice at the hydroelectric dam at Ballyshannon to ease the pressure.

"The lough has been rising from Monday, and the Rivers Agency knew this storm was coming so they should have had the dam open," Mrs Maguire said.

"If they lowered the lower lough and took her down by a couple of feet and opened the gates at Portora, they would have a lot of these floods gone in a day, instead of having everybody under water and under siege."

A Department of Agriculture and Rural Development spokeswoman said Upper Lough Erne had exceeded the winter guideline maximum water level.

"A combination of generation and spilling at the hydroelectric Power Stations at Cliff and Ballyshannon has been ongoing since 16 November to ensure that water can leave the Erne system as quickly as it can flow down to the dam," she added.

"It should, however, be recognised that heavy rain can result in a greater inflow than can possibly be dealt with."

Operators ESB said that throughout the current flood, the dam gates at Cathaleen's Fall had been open at all necessary times to ensure that the dams presented no restriction to water flowing out of Lower Lough Erne.

"In anticipation of flood waters, Erne stations begin to draw down Lower Lough Erne at the start of October each year," a spokesman added. "During a typical flood, Erne stations have an immediate effect on Lower Lough Erne levels - the lake immediately upstream from the dams at Ballyshannon.

"It takes a period of time for Erne stations to have an effect on the levels on Upper Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh. This is due to the restrictions in the channels.

"ESB is continuing to pass water through the generators and through the spillway gates. There is a total flow of around 340 cubic metres per second through the ESB dams at present. This represents the total volume of water that is flowing down the Belleek channel from Lower Lough Erne."

The Met Office said today would start dry and chilly with some sunshine, but cloud would increase through the afternoon with outbreaks of rain reaching southern counties later.

A spokesman warned of strengthening south-easterly winds with coastal gales later. He added it would be " rather cloudy with outbreaks of rain through the weekend, the rain heaviest across more eastern parts".

Belfast Telegraph


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