Belfast Telegraph

Water levels on Lough Neagh hit 30-year high in wake of wettest ever December

By Linda Stewart

Water levels on Lough Neagh have risen to a 30-year-high following the wettest month on record.

David Porter of the Rivers Agency said levels at Lough Erne are also rising again after an initial fall off.

Armagh Observatory said it was the wettest December since it began recording in 1838 - and also one of the warmest.

It was also the second wettest Christmas Day on record.

While the Met Office said it was the fourth wettest December on its records, Armagh Observatory recorded total precipitation of 186.1mm, with some rainfall on every day of the month.

It means the five wettest Decembers on record at Armagh are now 2015, 1978, 1914, 1876 and 1852.

The wettest day was the 29th with 31.1mm of rainfall and the second wettest day was Christmas Day with a total rainfall of 25mm, making it the second wettest Christmas day on record.

And there is no let-up in sight, according to the Met Office, which has issued a 'yellow' severe weather warning for another frontal system that is expected to cross Northern Ireland from the west this evening, bringing heavy rain.

"A band of heavy rain is expected to move across Northern Ireland from the west on Wednesday night, clearing away eastwards early on Thursday morning.

Fifteen to 30mm of rain is likely to fall quite widely within a six to nine-hour period, perhaps with as much as 40mm on high ground," a spokesman said.

"With the ground already being saturated, please be aware of the risk of local flooding and possible disruption to transport. Also note that icy stretches could form on untreated surfaces by Thursday morning as skies clear and temperatures fall, following the rain.

"There remains uncertainty in the exact timing of this frontal system, hence this warning is likely to be updated in coming days as new information becomes available."

Many roads remained closed across Northern Ireland last night, including 15 in Co Fermanagh, where residents affected by flooding in Lisnaskea were visited by Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill.

She met with farmers and other rural dwellers in Innishroosk, whose homes have been marooned by flooded roads and farmland, including Gary McManus, who had to take time off work to care for his elderly mother because their home was cut off leaving her unable to access proper services.

"I understand how difficult it is for those who live in rural areas to have their lives disrupted by road closures and diversions and for the farmers to see large parts of their land submerged under rain water," the minister said.

"Today, I have seen how rising floodwater can leave families isolated, the vulnerable without help, communities disrupted, children missing valuable school time and farmers coping with the impact of saturated fields.

"Everything should be done to ensure their distress is kept to a minimum.

"These communities have been here for generations.

"They look after the land and the lough.

"And now, they need to be reassured that they are a priority when weather hits them as hard as it has recently.

"Government will continue to review its response to the recent flooding as our priority is to make sure people are protected."

The Ulster Farmers Union said the relentless rain was making many everyday tasks unpleasant and there were few signs that land will be accessible when the closed period for slurry spreading ends. 

Dry autumn weather helped to reduce feed bills but hopes of an early spring are being washed away by the day, the union said.

UFU president Ian Marshall added: "Like everyone else, farmers are talking about the weather, but come rain or shine they have to get on with what they do to produce food - and that is what they are doing."

Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson warned that long-term farmland flooding can have a severe impact on the condition of pasture, forage supply and animal performance, as well as impacting on farm cash flow.

"Following contact from farmers and families affected by flooding I have been in touch with the Rivers Agency and the Agriculture Minister to raise concerns that floodwaters are not receding, with large swathes of rural land remaining waterlogged and unusable," she said.

"The Rivers Agency must urgently inspect the River Bann and consider dredging any areas where the river bed has become silted causing the potential for localised flooding.

"When investigations are conducted into this flooding period, the Agriculture Minister must ensure the Rivers Agency have the right level of resources to carry out any repairs.

"I understand from the Rivers Agency that the River Bann is being held back by Lough Neagh, which is currently at a 30-year high.

"While the control gates at Toome have been open since November they have confirmed to me that it is their view that it will take 'some time' for floodwaters to recede especially given the impact of further rainfall. However, as time goes on, damage caused to the land and livelihoods only increases."

Ms O'Neill called on the public to report any flooding incidents to the flooding incident line on 0300 2000 100 which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Belfast Telegraph


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