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July 23, 2007 2:55 AM   Subscribe

Weatherfilter: Widespread flooding in the UK leaves hundreds of thousands of homes without water and power. Extraordinary scenes of the floods command many of the front pages of Monday's newspapers. The Environment Agency has warned water levels are expected to exceed those of the devastating floods of 1947.
posted by chuckdarwin (56 comments total)

 
Flooding Gallery
posted by maxwelton at 3:04 AM on July 23, 2007


I was working friday, and read the forecast (four inches of rain due to fall). I told everyone 'let's get out of here while we still can.' No one listened to me, and we ended up stranded. Luckily we knew someone with a big Range Rover who could get us all across the water. We even had refugees show up on the doorstep... but we managed to find them the last two hotel rooms in town.

Meanwhile, the rain continues. Some summer we're having.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:13 AM on July 23, 2007


On the plus side, no hose-pipe bans and my garden looks fabulous.
posted by rhymer at 3:18 AM on July 23, 2007


Guess I chose the right month to move to Spain.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:40 AM on July 23, 2007


The flooding gallery maxwelton linked to above shows that England is no exception to the rule: little kids often have a lot of fun in floods!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:47 AM on July 23, 2007


Coolest parents award goes to:
Louise Beale from Fenny Compton: "We had to collect our children from school in our racing hovercraft, as all the roads into and out of the village were blocked."
posted by doctor_negative at 3:49 AM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Oh, for a racing hovercraft! I could go to Worcester and buy a copy of The Deathly Hallows!
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:52 AM on July 23, 2007


I'd be interested to see the figures behind the reasoning that building on flood plains is unavoidable. My folks live down in Gloucestershire now, and in the valleys around Stroud it was well seen that the traditional settlement patterns followed the geography in a sensible fashion, but lots of new estates were springing up in areas prone to flooding or on the "wrong" side of hills. Yet there seemed to be plenty of brownfield land and similar not being developed. Siting housing developments doesn't seem like one of those things the market can handle if avoiding occasional disasters like flooding matter to you.
posted by Abiezer at 4:01 AM on July 23, 2007


We're waiting for the flood waters to rise in Oxford: they keep pushing back the expected timing of the 'surge'.

I took a few photos, but to be honest it felt a bit voyeuristic; revelling in people's (incipient) troubles and all that.
posted by pharm at 4:07 AM on July 23, 2007


I'm reminded of that bit from Eric the Viking.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 4:31 AM on July 23, 2007


flapjax at midnite: "The flooding gallery maxwelton linked to above shows that England is no exception to the rule: little kids often have a lot of fun in floods!"

Seems pretty dangerous to swim in flood waters, there's usually all kinds of chemicals and/or bacteria in there.
posted by octothorpe at 5:17 AM on July 23, 2007


Seems pretty dangerous to swim in flood waters, there's usually all kinds of chemicals and/or bacteria in there

Well, sure, but that ain't gonna stop your average kid from having some fun splashing around, right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:28 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't see how this collection of BBC and Yahoo links qualifies as the best of the web. These floods are relatively widespread and a little more severe than usual, but this happens every year in Britain. This is the sort of thing that belongs on a personal blog.
posted by johnny novak at 5:35 AM on July 23, 2007


I spent a happy 8 hours travelling 6 miles on the A34 last Friday, ironically travelling up to Hull to help my cousin gut her old kitchen which was damaged in the other floods a couple of weeks ago.

Siting housing developments doesn't seem like one of those things the market can handle if avoiding occasional disasters like flooding matter to you.

I don't think avoiding a twice-per-century natural disaster does matter to most people. The cost of the occasional catastrophic flooding is more than paid for by the benefit of living next to a beautiful river for most of your life.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:37 AM on July 23, 2007


this happens every year in Britain.

What? No it doesn't. Thanks for posting this, chuckdarwin.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:52 AM on July 23, 2007


Hoverboards: The cost of the occasional catastrophic flooding is more than paid for by the benefit of living next to a beautiful river for most of your life.

Writing from New Orleans, may I respectfully suggest that anyone who feels this way is an idiot.
posted by localroger at 5:53 AM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


OK, mr novak Megaflood 'made Island Britain'. That's more besty webby.

I really don't think this sort of thing happens every year. No one I know can remember flooding like this during their lifetimes (even the old-timers). YMMV.

*grumbles*
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:55 AM on July 23, 2007


The waters in that gallery look so clean! Our American floods are always brown malevolent things. The English really are superior.
posted by LarryC at 5:58 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Siting housing developments doesn't seem like one of those things the market can handle if avoiding occasional disasters like flooding matter to you.

The market does handle this kind of thing. It is called insurance. Watch and see what the flood insurance premiums do now. There will be a financial incentive to live outside of flood planes. Those who choose to will know the risks.

I don't see how this collection of BBC and Yahoo links qualifies as the best of the web. These floods are relatively widespread and a little more severe than usual, but this happens every year in Britain. This is the sort of thing that belongs on a personal blog.

You should have said "Cry me a river".
posted by srboisvert at 6:05 AM on July 23, 2007


I'm slightly worried that my house in Leamington Spa will flood while I'm not there.

It happened in 1998 and they called it a "once in 150 year event". Whilst it is not quite at that level yet, it is still raining.

For an idea of how abnormally high the water is, check out these two pictures.

Suspension bridge and weir before flooding

Suspension bridge (and covered weir) after flooding
posted by knapah at 6:07 AM on July 23, 2007


I'd still prefer far stricter planning laws. Housing is like farming for me; it involves time-scales and impact on the landscape etc that the market doesn't account for, insurance or not.
posted by Abiezer at 6:12 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


The issue's public housing then, isn't it? If the market pushes up the insurance premiums, then the off-flood area land goes up in value, so all the affordable housing will be forced onto the cheaper flood-able land? Those that have little choice over where they're sited then take the risks. Market's weirdly weighted towards people with money like that...
posted by klaatu at 6:13 AM on July 23, 2007


Water filter.
posted by Balisong at 6:15 AM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


> Hoverboards: The cost of the occasional catastrophic flooding is more than paid for by the benefit of living next to a beautiful river for most of your life.

Writing from New Orleans, may I respectfully suggest that anyone who feels this way is an idiot.


Some places are inherently dangerous and people live there because they can't live anywhere else. Other places, like the banks of the river Thames, are populated by the comparatively super-rich, and they choose to live there despite the extremely remote risks to their lives and property. Why does that make them idiots?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 6:16 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


At least where I live, many of the low lying neighborhoods next to the rivers are very poor run-down areas full of little houses built a hundred years ago for mill workers. Now, they're full of seniors who can barely make their property tax payments and can't afford insurance. And you can't usually even see the river because it's blocked by rotting old warehouses and train yards. When that areas flood, people lose everything.
posted by octothorpe at 6:30 AM on July 23, 2007


Extraordinary scenes of the floods command many of the front pages of Monday's newspapers.

Except for the Daily Express, which had a completely fabricated story about Princess Diana. (Probably.)
posted by afx237vi at 6:30 AM on July 23, 2007


Hmm.

2005 Carlisle and Cumbria
2004 Boscastle and the Severn in Shropshire
2003 Kent, Essex and the Midlands and Cambridgeshire
2002 Elgin and Morayshire
2001 Kent, Essex and Cambridgeshire, Devon, Gloustershire

We get these floods every year, because it's wet here and we build too many of our houses on flood plains. This flood is pretty widespread, unusual for the summer months, and devastating for those involved, but I still can't see why this should be on Metafilter.
posted by johnny novak at 6:48 AM on July 23, 2007


I don't see how this collection of BBC and Yahoo links qualifies as the best of the web.

For people like me? I hunted around for pictures and satellite images of the flooding, for information about the geography, etc. I finally gave up and came to Metafilter, where you geniuses of the web had found it all for me. For me, best of the web doesn't always mean "most obscure." I bow to my "best of the web" overlords.

I have a question-- is this the area of England that was known, I believe, as the "fens" or is that further south? I haven't been able to find info on this.
posted by nax at 7:06 AM on July 23, 2007


It's a good thing you aren't an admin, then.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2007


Not the Fens - that's to the east and further up, on the other coast. This is the Cotswolds (ish).
posted by Helga-woo at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2007


johnny novak, It must be nice to log in to Metafilter from the safety of your bunk bed on the top floor of your parents' house. You may be dispassionate about the effects of the flood and natter on about 'market forces', but I doubt you would be as snarky if you yourself were flooded out.

The floods may happen every year *recently* as you point out, but this FPP is still interesting and indeed worthy of Metafilter because it gives people a chance to hear from, and talk to, people being affected by the disaster.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2007


We had many extreme floods the recent years in Europe: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, etc.

Last weekend Bavaria faced some catastropic rains / floods as well.

And as a weird sidenote: Italy is currently roasting and would love to get british rain.
posted by homodigitalis at 7:19 AM on July 23, 2007


No end in site for floods in China.

New Wildfires rip through the US West.

A Drought for the Ages. Drought, a fixture in much of the West for nearly a decade, now covers more than one-third of the continental USA. And it's spreading.
posted by stbalbach at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2007


Yes Jonny is right of course. Recently there have been floods every year. In Autumn/Winter/Spring, but the middle of July!?!

This is the worst July anyone I know can remember and worthy of an fpp imo.

We were complaining about floods in Belfast a few weeks ago... in hindsight they look bloody pathetic compared to the ones across the water.
posted by twistedonion at 7:37 AM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Although these floods are bad, they are nothing compared to what happened in Essex in 1953. 307 people died (and more across the rest of Europe), yet nothing much is mentioned about it now.
posted by markdj at 8:22 AM on July 23, 2007


MSNBC is reporting that the flooding in Britain is the worst in 60-years and that some counties have reached a 100-year high-water mark.

Here's NBC video from this morning.
posted by ericb at 8:28 AM on July 23, 2007


Here in Yorkshire, it's rained pretty much constantly since the beginning of June. If this isn't some sort of record I'd be surprised.
posted by handee at 8:32 AM on July 23, 2007


The market does handle this kind of thing. It is called insurance.

Back in the day, "insurance" meant building your house on high ground.

The issue of developers building on flood plains is a problem everywhere it seems. California has the bonus problem of river shed/ alluvial soils being prime candidates for liquifaction in an earthquake. The State of California has pretty much resisted learning any sort of lesson from geological disasters (the City of Napa is an exception). Here's hoping that everyone makes it through the floods OK.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:43 AM on July 23, 2007


I just got back from northern Italy late last night where indeed it is baking hot with barely a cloud in sight; since I'd been out of touch with the news for over a week it was a bit of a surprise to find that not only had the incessant rain of the past 2 months continued, it had gotten worse and England was once again under water.
Not only that but I live right on the canal in Oxford, where all sorts of roads and rail lines have been closed because of the flooding Thames. So I will be watching the water level with some interest. So far the canal is *slightly* below where it peaked during the last major floods hereabouts - in May I think it was - but they are saying that the Thames is only expected to rise, and the canal along with it I expect.
After work I'll take a ride up to Port Meadow and see how wild the Thames has become.
posted by Flashman at 8:43 AM on July 23, 2007


I still can't see why this should be on Metafilter.

You've said this twice now. Take it to MetaTalk or STFU.

I personally am glad for the post, and I hope all MeFites in the afflicted areas are OK.
posted by languagehat at 8:54 AM on July 23, 2007


johnny novak writes "This flood is pretty widespread, unusual for the summer months, and devastating for those involved, but I still can't see why this should be on Metafilter."

Save the outrage for the next time a NYC deli closes.
posted by Mitheral at 8:57 AM on July 23, 2007


We've just had the wettest June in both England and the UK since 1914, when detailed records started. 3 weeks ago, Hull and surrounds flooded so badly it might be a full year before some houses are habitable again.

We're also shaping up to be the wettest July on record - the Severn and Thames are higher than they were in the 1947 floods (the last time the rivers were this high) which are amongst the worst ever recorded, as most of the rivers countrywide flooded. It's still raining, and the Thames is estimated to carry on rising, risking much worse flooding in Oxford than has already occured.

The floods in October 2000 were bad - reckoned to be a 1-in-150 years flooding. They've already been surpassed.

The floods linked for 2001-2005 were all flash floods, caused by a lot of water raining in a small area during the autumn/winter rainy season, and overwhelming defences and floodplains. Most of them didn't affect more than one river.

The floods still subsiding from last month and going on right now are much larger, affecting several major rivers and a large area and will keep getting worse unless we have a sustained dry spell to let the ground dry out. Personally, I think the worst and most widespread flooding in the UK in living memory is worth a post.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:29 AM on July 23, 2007


It is somewhat of an irony though - we had two very dry years, with summer hosepipe bans. The water companies were complaining that if we didn't get above average winter rainfall, we were predicted facing standpipes and water bowsers for drought affected areas this summer.

We got the above-average winter rainfall, and we were all looking forward to a nice summer, free of water rationing. I don't many of us saw this reason for the water bowsers coming!
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:33 AM on July 23, 2007


Glad to see this post, as there's been very little coverage of this in the U.S. papers - I've seen more about the floods in China recently than about this.

makes vow to self to read bbc news more regularly.
posted by rtha at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2007


there's been very little coverage of this in the U.S. papers

All 5 newspapers I read have coverage:
Boston Globe: British water levels reaching 60-year highs.

New York Times: Flooding in Britain, Texas and China [with slideshow].

U.S.A. Today: Europe battles floods, record temps .

Wall Street Journal: Insurance Costs Surge As U.K. Floods Continue.

Washington Post: Floods Strike Britain; Thames Rising.
The story is also leading the news loops on CNN and MSNBC today -- and is the current feature story at MSNBC.com: Britain Submerged.
posted by ericb at 12:03 PM on July 23, 2007


Hoverboards -- it's one thing to live in a low place because your job is tied to industries that are tied to the water. You can make allowances. Below NOLA in southern Louisiana people know they'll be wiped out once in awhile. But they go back for the shrimping, or because somebody has to run the drilling mud plant. You do what you can; you build on high ground if there is any, or on stilts, or cheaply so you can replace it easily, and you watch the weather reports carefully.

To live in such a place when you could just as easily live a couple of miles away and not have the risk is stupid. It sounds like it's not even population pressure pushing these people onto the floodplain; they're taking the risk of being wiped out for pretty. I believe this is an example of what psychologists call "discounting the future." I have seen very up close and personal what it's like to get wiped out by a flood, and it's not worth it.

You have to consider that when the flood comes (not if, mind you, but when) you will pretty much lose everything you own. You will then have to replace it all. Assuming that insurance is correctly levied (an assumption that's not the case in the US) you'll pay for it all anyway in premiums so that the insurance company can give it back to you when the catastrophe occurs.

And the insurance doesn't give you back the sentimental value of your photos, your collections, the data on your computer that got drowned, or a way to erase the memory of wondering whether you would live or die as the water came up.
posted by localroger at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2007


Strange coincidence: I have my iTunes on shuffle -- the last two songs that came up --
Who Can Stop the Rain -- Thompson Twins
Too Much Rain -- ATB
.
posted by ericb at 1:28 PM on July 23, 2007


My sister got married on Friday. The weather almost spoilt it, but through huge 'triumph through adversity' we had an awesome day. Sure, we had to relocate the entire reception within 3 hours, but we pulled it off in style.
posted by TheDonF at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2007


It's a good thing you aren't an admin, then.

exactly
posted by nax at 1:56 PM on July 23, 2007


All 5 newspapers I read have coverage:

True, ericb - but all that coverage is from today; the rains/floods have been happening for weeks. I'd had no idea that it's been raining in England since May, nor did I know that some areas have seen flooding happening for some days/weeks now.
posted by rtha at 2:18 PM on July 23, 2007


localroger it is slightly more complicated than rich people wanting to live by rivers... There has been a lot of building on flood plains in recent years, land that has through history traditionally left underdeveloped (see this picture of Tewkesbury - it's no accident that the Abbey is an island surrounded by water - ok, it's more inundated than it ever should be but we are talking about extremes at the moment).

We're a small island with a lot of people, and there is a bit of a crisis in housing. Some people say we don't have enough, and what we have is too expensive. So there has been pressure to build more in places which haven't been built on before. This Green Paper got a bit swamped today, as it was more than about building on flood plains, it's about how and where and what we should be building to help redress some of this.

Anecdotal story... from the village where I grew up, and where my parents still live, and which is currently a bit flooded. When I was at primary school (20 years ago), we had a teacher who was on the verge or retirement, who'd taught at the school for over 40 years. She would, on pretty much an annual basis, tell us the tale of the building of one of the housing estates in the '60s, which was alongside our little river (a tributary of the Avon). The builders tried for several years to start work on this estate, but each year had to abandon it, because the site flooded. So they built flood defenses, and they were able to build the houses. But, she would tell us, these defenses would only stop the regular annual floods, not the killer once every 25 year floods.

Fast forward to 1998 and several generations had been and gone in those houses, and in the village in general. The occupiers had put sheds in their gardens, and even fences across the river. A few years beforehand, the Environment Agency had been round to tell them all that they had to remove all the structures on the flood plain, because it would cause problems. But they didn't. I guess they thought that since we'd not had serious flooding (well not since they'd lived there), and the village had defenses, it wouldn't happen. So when the killer flood did come in 1998, it was worse than it could have been, because the fences and sheds and chicken pens caused blockages and the water rose higher. The knowledge of the significance of flood plain, and the role of the flood defenses had been lost in the village.

There were other similar instances elsewhere (and on a slightly more institutional scale) such as drainage ditches that weren't kept deep enough (an old people's home flooded from a drainage ditch - not the river).

So in the last 9 years, there's been a lot of work to sort a lot of this out. Having your house flooded is a real eye-opener to the effects of living on a flood plain. Of course, what no one was expecting was that we'd get another killer flood so soon...
posted by Helga-woo at 2:40 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Christ, tonight's Newsnight is saying that the flooding is far from over and about to get much worse.
posted by TheDonF at 2:45 PM on July 23, 2007


Hi all. Its pretty hectic here in Gloucestershire. 150,000+ people have no drinking water supplies and a large number of houses and businesses have been damaged. By extreme fortune and the efforts of the emergency services, there appear to have been very few casualties. Despite that, last night the county was two inches from disaster. The flood waters came within that distance of overtopping the emergency flood defences around a key national grid switching station. If that had gone at least 500,000 people would have had no electricity for weeks- and consequently no petrol, no shops open, no water anywhere. Again this was only saved by amazing work from Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service and the armed forces. Hopefully now hte flood waters have peaked - although it will be a long time before they go down... then the long and expensive task of cleaning up can begin...
posted by prentiz at 5:07 AM on July 24, 2007


A vocabulary question for you UK-ers: in an article from the BBC's site, it says:

"In Gloucester, shoppers formed queues at supermarkets to buy bottled water, while others voiced frustration they found bowsers empty." (my emph.)

What's a bowser? I can't figure it out from the context.

(Good luck to you all, and stay safe.)
posted by rtha at 9:56 AM on July 24, 2007


A bowser is a portable water trailer. There's 900 of them deployed around Gloucestershire at the moment.
posted by prentiz at 9:57 AM on July 24, 2007


Thank you!
posted by rtha at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2007


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