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English regions face ‘likely’ chance of winter floods this decade, experts warn

Scientists used a new supercomputer at the Met Office to simulate thousands of possible winters and assess the risk of extreme events.

Record rainfall levels have a one in three chance of bringing flooding mayhem to at least one region of England each winter over the next 10 years, scientists have predicted.

Experts used a new supercomputer at the Met Office to simulate thousands of possible winters and assess the risk of extreme rainfall events.

The analysis revealed an 8% risk of record monthly rainfall in south-east England in any given winter.

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Drivers pass through flooded roads in Yalding, Kent (PA)

When other regions of the country were also considered, the chances of at least one of them being swamped by a record deluge rose to 33%.

Lead Met Office researcher Dr Vikki Thompson said: “Our analysis showed that these could happen at any time and it’s likely we will see record monthly rainfall in one of our … regions in the next few years.”

Recently a number of severe rainfall events have caused widespread flooding in the UK.

During the winter of 2013/14, a succession of storms led to record rainfall and flooding in many regions including the South East. Clean-up costs in the Thames Valley alone were estimated to be more than £1 billion.

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A woman and her dog are rescued after heavy rain from Storm Desmond flooded Carlisle (Peter Byrne/PA)

In December 2015, Storm Desmond struck the North West, causing serious flooding and damage.

The new forecast, published in the journal Nature Communications, is based on the current climate and not conditions altered by global warming.

Six regions of England and Wales were considered in the analysis. Of these, four – south-east England, the Midlands, East Anglia and north-east England – met the threshold set for a high risk of extreme rainfall.

Meteorologist Professor Richard Allan, from the University of Reading, said exceptional seasonal rainfall in the UK was the result of a “perfect storm” of atmospheric influences.

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Waves close to the harbour wall at Porthcawl, South Wales, during Storm Desmond in December 2015 (Ben Birchall/PA)

Commenting on the research, he said: “Using serious number-crunching power, the new study plays back thousands of possible weather patterns that emerge from detailed computer simulations of recent decades, some of which produce more extreme rainfall events than have actually been experienced to date…

“The work compliments evidence that warming of climate is already causing extreme rainfall events to intensify.

“As the planet continues to warm due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, extra moisture in the air will fuel increasingly intense rainfall causing a continued rise in the risk of damaging events into the future.”

Colleague Professor Len Shaffrey, from the university’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, said: “Using weather and climate models to better understand the probability of extreme weather is an important method that is becoming more widely used to help inform those dealing with weather impacts about the risks of extreme events.

“Future research needs to evaluate how well weather and climate models are able to accurately simulate other extreme weather events, for example droughts and heatwaves, if we want to use models to better understand extreme weather risks and how they might be changing.”

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