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Climate change behind U.K. floods?

July 23, 2007
Asso­ciated Press

Se­vere flood­ing hit­ting Eng­land this week may be a re­sult of glob­al warm­ing, ac­cord­ing to some sci­en­tists.

Emer­gen­cy work­ers res­cued hun­dreds of trapped peo­ple Mon­day as wa­ter swal­lowed swaths of cen­tral Eng­land in the worst flood­ing to hit the coun­try for 60 years. Of­fi­cials said some riv­ers were still ris­ing, with the west­ern sec­tion of the rain-swol­len Riv­er Thames on the verge of burst­ing its banks. 

Cli­mate change is a possible cul­prit, said Tim Ev­ans, a sci­ent­ist with the Char­tered In­sti­tu­tion of Wa­ter and En­vi­ron­ment Man­age­ment in Lon­don. He added that the situa­t­ion matched pre­dic­tions of how glob­al warn­ing would af­fect Brit­ain. Brit­ain also had one of its hot­test and dri­est sum­mers on rec­ord last year. 

“What we now think of as ex­treme events will oc­cur more of­ten than in the past, and the ex­tremes will get more ex­treme,” Ev­ans said.

But Brit­ain’s Me­te­or­ol­ogical Of­fice said the weath­er was con­sist­ent with con­di­tions caused by the La Ni­na weath­er sys­tem, which is caused by cool­ing ocean wa­ters and leads to ex­treme weath­er. sci­en­tists said there was no clear ex­plana­t­ion for an un­usu­ally long spell of wet weath­er.

“The situa­t­ion is look­ing crit­i­cal at the mo­ment. Un­for­tu­nately the mis­ery is set to con­tin­ue,” said En­vi­ron­ment Agen­cy spokes­man Joe Gi­a­co­mel­li. Roads and park­ing lots were sub­merged, trains sus­pended, bus­es can­celed. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple were with­out elec­tricity or drink­ing wa­ter, and farm­ers saw their sum­mer crops de­stroyed.

Tor­ren­tial rains have plagued Brit­ain over the past month — nearly 5 inches fell in some ar­eas on Fri­day alone — and more down­pours were pre­dicted this week.

“This emer­gen­cy is far from over and fur­ther flood­ing is ex­tremely like­ly,” En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Hil­a­ry Benn told law­mak­ers in the House of Com­mons.

As of July 23, wa­ters peak­ed on the swol­len Riv­er Sev­ern, which had flood­ed parts of the city of Glouces­ter and near­by ar­eas of west-cen­tral Eng­land. “If it goes up an­oth­er cou­ple of inches, Glouces­ter is in trou­ble, but it seems to have peak­ed. ... We’re win­ning,” said En­vi­ron­ment Agen­cy spokes­man Adri­an West­wood.

The last time Brit­ain saw si­m­i­lar flood­ing was in 1947, ac­cord­ing to the En­vi­ron­ment Agen­cy. No deaths or se­ri­ous in­ju­ries have been re­ported in the cur­rent flood­ing.

Lon­don it­self was not af­fected. The city is pro­tected from flood­ing in the east by the Thames Bar­ri­er, the world’s larg­est move­a­ble flood de­fense, which closes to seal off part of the up­per Thames from the sea. 

To the west, Lon­don is pro­tected by sev­er­al flood de­fense meas­ures in­clud­ing the Ju­bi­lee Riv­er, a 7-mile-long di­ver­sion chan­nel. The west­ern sec­tion of the Thames that of­fi­cials wor­ried about lies 80 miles from the cap­i­tal. 

Dur­ing a tou­r of the Glouces­tershire re­gion, Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown an­nounced in­creased fund­ing for flood and coast­al de­fenses across the coun­try. “It is pret­ty clear that some of the 19th-century struc­tures and in­fra­struc­ture and where they were sit­ed is some­thing we will have to re­view,” said Brown, who suc­ceeded Tony Blair less than a month ago. Much of Brit­ain’s in­fra­struc­ture dates to Vic­to­ri­an times.


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Severe flooding hitting England this week may be a result of global warming, according to some scientists.