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A satellite view of the floods at Somerset Levels as heavy rains earlier this month brought severe flooding to South West England. This comes at a time when extreme weather events have become more frequent throughout the world, particularly rainfall. In order to prepare for such events finding ways to adapt built infrastructure and coordinate services across the public and private sectors is vital.
The unusual spell of very prolonged and intense rainfall across the UK is continuing, with the Met Office forecasting more to come in the coming days. Reports of landslides continue to flood in from around Britain – for example in the Highlands of Scotland the A890 is blocked once again at Stromeferry – this is the same section of road that caused so many problems last year. Yesterday, the BGS and the Met Office took the highly unusual step of issuing a landslide warning for SW England, primarily because conditions are now so saturated that landslides are inevitable. There is particular concern around coastal cliffs, which in the UK are often mantled with landslides. Beaches are popular with walkers, meaning that there is a danger of rockfalls onto people, whilst cliff tops in the UK are the sites of highly popular coastal footpaths. The dangers are obvious.
Meanwhile, it is good to see that these extreme conditions are driving the media to provide increased coverage to the changes that we are now seeing in the climate. Although climate change denialists will undoubtedly disagree, there is no doubt that extreme conditions are becoming increasingly normal. Unfortunately, this is just the start. Read more
Yesterday afternoon a set of unusually intense thunderstorms passed across the north of England and Scotland, bringing short duration but very intense rainfall across a wide area. The result was localised flooding across a wide area and considerable disruption. Perhaps the greatest impact came on the railways, where a series of landslides has blocked lines. The impact of these events is best understood with reference to a map of the rail network in northern England and Scotland:
You will see that there are only two main lines north from England to Scotland – the East Coast line from Newcastle-upon-Tyne north through Berwick to Edinburgh and the West Coast line through Carlisle. Both of these lines have old alignments – much more than a century old (the East Coast line was completed in 1950 for example) – although clearly the tracks themselves and associated services are much more modern. However, it does mean that the lines have a legacy of old earthworks, which in turn means that despite very considerable investment by the track operator Network Rail they are sometimes vulnerable to small-scale failures during heavy rainfall. Unfortunately, the intense rainfall events passed across both lines, and was sufficient to trigger landslides that closed both tracks. Read more