Has climate change shifted the timing of floods in the UK?

First off I will admit I haven’t fully read the study “Changing climate shifts timing of European floods” by Günter Blöschl and numerous other contributors from across Europe. The study has been picked up on by the BBC in this news article (fig 1), because they obviously see that it’s just another byproduct of AGW, rather than just climate change, and yes I do think there is subtle distinction. As far as I can see, none of the many contributors are employed by the UKMO, which I find unusual.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

I have highlighted in yellow the areas in the news article that I have misgivings about, the first one is from Matt McGrath

The scientists believe this is due to changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), the weather phenomenon that pushes storms across the ocean into Europe.

The North Atlantic Oscillation is simply an index of the pressure difference between the Azores and Iceland, as far as I know this index doesn’t push anything across any ocean, you might say that the Azores high or Icelandic Low are weather phenomena, but surely the difference between the pressure at two points is just a number?

Günter is the quoted as saying:

In southern England, it has been raining more, longer and more intensely than in the past. This has created a rising groundwater table and higher soil moisture than usual and combined with intense rainfall this produces earlier river floods

I refute that, unless the changes that the study is talking about have suddenly started to occur in the last five years. Cue some evocative pictures of rivers in southern England that have dried up in recent years that I’ve found on the Internet (figs 2 & 3). (N.B. to the BBC, two can play at that game!). Yes, I know these images are from 2012, but what about the River Derwent in the Lake District in May 2017 (fig 4). So it’s a well-known fact that river levels and groundwater tables do fluctuate, and can do so very quickly, that’s what they naturally do.

Figure 2 – The River Lavant, West Sussex in February 2012 courtesy of Press Associates and the Daily Mail.

Figure 3 – The River Pang, Berkshire in February 2012 courtesy of Press Associates and the Daily Mail.

Figure 4 – The River Derwent, Cumbia in May 2017 courtesy of Paul Kingston and Twitter

I can’t get any daily rainfall climate data for anywhere in the UK without paying loads of money to the Met Office, so I am stuck with the free 1910 monthly rainfall gridded data that they produce, I wonder if they used this kind of data or if the Met Office felt pity on their research and gave them the ‘real’ rainfall station data that they guard so jealously on our behalf? From that data here are some graphs with a simple linear trend for the southeast and central southern England region for winter, spring and summer (figs 5-7). I can’t see any discernible upward trend in rainfall in any of those three seasons, although I will admit that the 10 year moving average for summer is on the rise, and won’t be any lower after this wet summer.

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Günter goes on further to say:

Half the stations recorded floods at least 15 days earlier than previously. A quarter of the stations saw flooding more than 36 days earlier than in 1960.

This one is a hard one to counter, especially without daily rainfall climate data and the dates of all fluvial flooding incidents since 1960, which I simply don’t have. But I don’t see that there is some kind of flood or monsoon season across the UK that starts at any precise date that you can readily identify, and if you can’t identify it, then how can you then go on to say that it’s starting 15 days earlier than it did in 1960? I do know from my interest in CET, that the spring is probably around 15 days earlier and it was in 1960, and that temperature is linked to increased convection and heavier rainfall, but I see little sign of it from the rainfall climate data that I can access.

Finally, here’s the last 12 months rainfall over southeast England (fig 8). It’s been a funny last 12 months as far as rainfall goes, up until mid May there was talk of an impending drought later in the year across southern and eastern areas, but the wet summer has put paid to that. There have definitely been some wet days in the last 12 months across the southeast of England, but they can occur in any month as far as I can see, and the accumulated rainfall is still only 84.7% of the annual average at the end of July 2017. What I really need is now is data from the environment agency, some kind of daily count on the number of alerts that they issue for rivers across the UK, a bit like the NAO, but not a phenomena, just a daily count.

Figure 8

PS I’ve just download the report to read – for a change it’s free to do so – and better still it’s only four pages long.

August 9 – rainfall

Figure 1

If they had only fitted a rainfall gauge to the AWS at Broadness on the Thames at Gravesend, they probably would have measured over 50 mm of rainfall in the 24 hours ending 06 UTC this morning (fig 2). I still can’t understand why this heavy rainfall event didn’t cause any pluvial or fluvial flooding issues yesterday in this part of the world.

Figure 2

BBC News: Yorkshire and Lincolnshire flooding caused by heavy rain

Courtesy of the BBC

A news item from the BBC concerning flooding caused by heavy rain in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-40875248  The BBC were a bit late on this one as most of the heavy rain occurred on Tuesday in that area.

Met Office more reactive than proactive in the issuing of yellow warnings

Figure 1

I’ve been blogging ever since I retired and that’s now well over five years. I spend a good deal of my time watching how the Met Office performs through its forecasts and the various warnings that it issues, and recently, well in the last few weeks actually, I’ve been asking myself what is the exact purpose of the yellow warnings they issue.

What the colours mean

  • Yellow – Severe weather is possible over the next few days and could affect you. Yellow means that you should plan ahead thinking about possible travel delays, or the disruption of your day-to-day activities. The Met Office is monitoring the developing weather situation and Yellow means keep an eye on the latest forecast and be aware that the weather may change or worsen, leading to disruption of your plans in the next few days.
  • Amber – There is an increased likelihood of bad weather affecting you, which could potentially disrupt your plans and possibly cause travel delays, road and rail closures, interruption to power and the potential risk to life and property. Amber means you need to be prepared to change your plans and protect you, your family and community from the impacts of the severe weather based on the forecast from the Met Office
  • Red – Extreme weather is expected. Red means you should take action now to keep yourself and others safe from the impact of the weather. Widespread damage, travel and power disruption and risk to life is likely. You must avoid dangerous areas and follow the advice of the emergency services and local authorities.

More reactive than proactive

After the recent flash flooding in Coverack (18th July) and that at Okehampton yesterday (30th July), I now realise that many yellow warnings simply aren’t working, and that the Met Office have become more reactive than proactive in their issuing of them. I am convinced that yesterday’s late afternoon yellow ‘warning’ for 1750-2000 BST was prompted as much by Twitter, as it was by mesoscale NWP guidance or observational data from weather radar, river level gauges, automatic rain gauges or AWS.

I’m sure that they had reviewed the situation in the morning, and had duly issued a yellow warning for heavy rain for the north of Scotland, the reason that they gave for that warning of 20-40 mm was that the showers would be slow-moving.

What happened literally on their own door step at Okehampton seems to have caught them totally unawares, perhaps they thought the showers in Devon were moving quickly, and hadn’t anticipated that ‘peninsula convergence’ might just keep them coming along the spine of Devon for much of the day. In the end Okehampton received 84.2 mm in the 09-09 UTC period. I can’t believe that these accumulations were not picked up by any of the earlier mesoscale NWP model runs, and a warning not issued at the same time as the one for the north of Scotland was, I would love to see what the models were indicating.

The thinking must be at the Met Office, that a yellow warning must be in place to ensure that they are covered from any fallout in any severe weather, so no matter how late in the day it is, a yellow warning has to be issued. I recall a similar thing happened with the strong winds on the 6th of June, a warning for strong winds could have been issued with the one for heavy rain the day before, but for some reason known only to themselves wasn’t, two men were killed by falling trees on that day. It wasn’t a warning, it came into force as soon as it was issued, and that’s not much help to anybody, similarly yesterday, everyone in Okehampton knew it had been raining heavily all day, and by the time the warning had been issued the worst was over.

Figure 2 – Flooding yesterday at Okehampton courtesy of Twitter and Gillian Cross

I noticed that in the Coverack flash flooding on the 17th of this month, although there was a yellow alert in force, a red alert was never issued. It may be that localised nature of flash flooding does not meet the criteria of ‘widespread’ for the issuing of a red warning, and that’s why one was never issued. If that’s true, that would mean that if the NSWWS had been in place in the past for the flash flooding at Boscastle in 2004 and Lynmouth in 1952, both events would have only warranted a yellow warning.

In yesterday ‘peninsula convergence’ heavy rainfall event at Okehampton, the Met Office did have time to give an explanation to its Twitter followers of what ‘peninsula convergence’ was, but they only managed to issue a belated yellow alert from 1750 BST, when heavy rain had been falling for much of the afternoon (fig 1 & fig 3), and don’t forget that yellow means “Severe weather is possible over the next few days and could affect you“.

Here is my estimated total from low resolution weather radar images of what fell before the warning was issued from 0900 – 1650 UTC. As you can see from the inset hyetograph, there had already been, in the worst affected areas, around 61.7 mm of rain in less than eight hours (fig 3).

Figure 3

And here is my estimated total of what fell during the duration of the warning (1655-1900 UTC), and as you can see in that time a maximum of 25 mm fell in just over two hours in the same area (fig 4).

Figure 4

Heavy rainfall event over Germany

Figure 1

When I initially generated this rainfall chart for Germany since the 1st of July, I thought that the total for the Brocken looked spurious, 418.4 mm looked way too high for July, even for the top of a 1,152 metre high mountain, so I had a look at the underlying SYNOP reports to verify it and found that it was accurate (fig 2). There has been a lot of rainfall in the last couple of days across middle and northern Germany, and I believe it’s causing some issues their with flooding.

Figure 2

I did find a graph of rainfall for the Brocken so far this year on the DWD website that confirmed the totals of the last few days (fig 3).

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the DWD

According to Wikipedia the average rainfall for the Brocken is 150.6 mm for the month of July, so we are looking at almost three times the 1981-2000 long-term average.

The over reliance on NWP

I still can’t fully understand how poorly the Met Office dealt with their warning of heavy rain and thunderstorms across the south for last night, but with the help of the BBC Spotlight Southwest forecast at 2230 BST, I think I can show how both the BBC and the Met Office got it wrong.

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

The first frame that David Braine shows is the actual weather radar image for 22 BST (good on you David), which shows a band of thunderstorms along the English Channel, that he says are heading north which is what they were doing, well a bit east of north (fig 1). He must realise that these storms will affect Devon, but he’s in a dilemma, because he now’s stuck with showing forecast graphics that are out of step with the radar.

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the BBC

The next frame he shows is the classic cut to the NWP forecast frame for 23 BST, and it’s far from seamless, with just two active cell aligned SW-NE, rather than numerous cells aligned E-W in the weather radar. Cornwall and Devon are now clear of any activity, either from rain or thunderstorms (fig 2).

Figure 3 – Courtesy of the BBC

The next frame at midnight swiftly takes the cells NE and shrinking them, especially the one in Lyme bay (fig 3).

Figure 4 – Courtesy of the BBC

And hey presto in the next frame for 01 BST, the Lyme bay storm has vanished (fig 4).

So the NWP forecast weather was way out of synch with the weather at 22 BST, and then the model proceeds to ignore the observational radar weather data as if it wasn’t there. Not only does the model dismiss the rain, but the forecaster dismisses it as well, with a flick of the wrist and a classic David Braine comment of “so we end up with a largely dry night“.

I saw David Braine interviewed a little later on the rolling BBC news channel, and he did emphasise that the storm in Coverack was very localised, but he then spoils it all by saying that we can’t say how much rainfall fell because we have so few rain gauges, but he forgets that we do happen to have a state-of-the-art weather radar and lightning detection networks that’s sorely under used in situations like this. We can estimate quite accurately just how much rain fell, anywhere yesterday (fig 7), I know because I do it on a regular basis and blogged about the ‘hot-spot’ off the Lizard yesterday before the story had been widely picked up by the media.

The growing problem with weather forecasting since the 1980’s, is I believe is its over reliance on NWP, especially in the short-term, and at times it’s almost total disregard of observational data, especially if it conflicts with what the model is saying. That kind of thinking explains why the Met Office were so reluctant to extend yesterdays warning for heavy rain beyond 2355 BST, which in my opinion should have been done by 2200 BST at the latest on the evidence of the weather radar, especially so in light of the earlier flash flooding that occurred at Coverack. Curiously, the Chief was finally persuaded to update the existing warning area for today to include the south (fig 5), but it didn’t happen till 0127 BST (the time I received their email), and the previous warning had been out of force for around 90 minutes.

Figure 5

The Thunderstorms in mid-Devon put on a spectacular lightning show from 2330 to 0230 BST, with sporadic heavy rain at times, I recorded 23.8 mm of rain in the 24 hours at Bradninch, Exeter airport reported 10.2 mm, but Dunkeswell just to the east, received only 1.2 mm  of rain which underlies the localised nature of the storms. Here’s the weather radar sequence for last night from 21 UTC to 02 UTC (fig 6).

Figure 6

And just to emphasise why the warning area required extending after 2355 BST to include all southern coastal counties from Devon eastward, here’s my estimated rainfall accumulations from the weather radar for 18-06 UTC. As you can see, a swathe of areas across Hampshire had rainfall totals in excess of 50 mm in that period, it’s also interesting to see the track of the thunderstorms as they moved NNE up the Exe Valley in Devon (fig 7).

Figure 7

Most of the gauges that reported 24 hour rainfall totals in the 06 UTC SYNOPs missed the heaviest of the rain, which is understandable given the localised nature of thunderstorms and how they tracked (fig 8). I know that there are many more gauges out there than this, and I would love to get my hands on the totals from the automatic gauges and fill the gaps.

Figure 8

I think the Met Office had basically got the wording in the yellow alert for heavy rain for yesterday correct. Where they got it wrong was not extending the area of the warning for the next day to include southern coastal counties in good time. What if a Coverack type deluge had happened to a more populated location such as Portsmouth or Brighton just after midnight when there was no warning in force at all? I can almost detect a kind of arrogance in how they delayed updating the warning, as if they know best, and wouldn’t be hurried into doing it, the flash flooding at Coverack was a warning (excuse the pun) which they failed to see, but fortunately they got away with it, this time.

Wet in the Lake District

Figure 1

The cold front that’s been sat over the Northwest of England for most of the last 24 hours or so has finally cleared through (fig 4), but not before depositing over an inch of rain on Keswick since midnight (fig 2).

Figure 2

In fact some of the estimated totals for the Cumbrian fells are in the 75-100 mm pixel colour category (fig 3). The rain shadow effect is pretty spectacular too (Fig 1), with Leeming on the other side of the Pennines in the Vale of York, receiving only 0.2 mm of rain.

Figure 3

I noticed that the Met Office did issue alerts for possible flooding from the orographic enhanced rainfall event this morning.

Figure 4

Looking hard at the accumulated evidence of climate change – but what about the CCC report?

A new blog from the Met Office about climate change of all things. I just had to comment even though what I say may well be moderated out so here’s the article and the comment I’ve submitted just in case.

The Met Office seemed to have missed a golden opportunity to link this article (which look like it could have been published at anytime), to the much more important event that happened earlier this week: the release of the five yearly report by the Climate Change Committees into the impacts of Climate Change on the UK. Here’s a link to the 24 page report by the CCC so that you can read what they said, and see just why the Government seems so keen not to talk about any of its conclusions or recommendations. I’ve scanned through it, and the one organisation that seemed conspicuous by its absence in the report itself was the Met Office. A quick search revealed that the phrase ‘Met Office’ occurred only once in the 12,500 word document, perhaps that’s why they ignored it, just like the Government seems to have!

Here’s what the Independent predicted would happen just after Christmas 2016.

Figure 2 – Courtesy of the Independent (Sunday, 27 December 2016)

They predicted it would happen and it did happen. I’m not a big newspaper reader but the Independent have picked up on a story that to me is true, admittedly the Trident cover up of the last week is just as big a disgrace, but this one takes the biscuit, because the implications of what it means in the decades down the line are enormous for the people of the UK. Money of course is key, this Government would seem to be much happier spending £100 billion or more on a Trident replacement than spend it on the NHS or the infrastructure of the country. Here’s the follow-up article from the Independent that they published on Monday, the day that the CCC report was officially released and stifled by the Conservatives.

Figure 3 –  Courtesy of The Independent (Monday, 23 January 2016 )