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On Thursday morning, there was a knock on my office door – “The BBC wants to talk to someone about snowmen” – “okay…” I reply, not quite sure where this is going. Five minutes later I am on the phone to a reporter.
It had been in the newspaper that morning about reducing flood risk by building snowmen. The Environment Agency was concerned about a rapid warming in the weather melting the snow and this released water creating a flood risk. The proposed solution from the Environment Agency was based on the fact that snow in large piles, either stacked up or as a snowman, takes longer to melt and hence would slow the delivery of the water to the rivers (see BBC News article). My first thought on this was that we would need to build a huge number of snowmen to capture enough water to have an effect. Having travelled from Durham to London and back this week, it was clear how much of the country was covered in snow. I was about to calculate the number of snowmen required to capture a significant fraction of the water (Prof. Kevin Hiscock at UEA has done this for the River Wensum catchment and estimated 6 million snowmen in that area alone) before I started to think about the problem from another perspective.