Climate change '100 per cent' means more rain in UK storms say experts

17 February 2020, 14:37

Climate change "100 per cent" brings more rain to UK storms say experts
Climate change "100 per cent" brings more rain to UK storms say experts. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Climate change is "100 per cent" the reason for heavier rainfall in UK storms like Ciara and Dennis, experts warn.

The UK was battered by strong winds and heavy rain over the weekend as Storm Dennis brought further disruption to the country, just a week after Storm Ciara.

More than a month's worth of rain fell in 48 hours in some parts of Britain, with homes, roads and railways all experiencing flooding.

Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, said the UK is at an increased risk to further devastating winter storms and flooding because of climate change, for which the country is "clearly" not ready.

Speaking about Ciara and Dennis, she said: "These types of events are most likely a taster of what is to come and we should be paying very close attention to that."

And she warned: "Clearly, we are not ready for them.

"We've always seen these big floods but we do keep seeing these records being broken, it's very concerning."

Further UK flooding could be caused if global temperatures continue to rise
Further UK flooding could be caused if global temperatures continue to rise. Picture: PA

Studies show that conditions in another recent winter storm in 2015 - named Desmond, which also brought heavy rain and flooding to UK towns, as well as causing almost £900 million worth of damage - were made 40 per cent more likely because of climate change.

Dr Michael Byrne, lecturer in climate science at the University of St Andrews and research fellow at the University of Oxford, added that more water in the atmosphere is "an entirely inevitable consequence of climate change."

"When you warm the planet, the atmosphere holds more water. In many parts of the world, including the UK, rising temperatures go hand in hand with more rain."

The professor said it could not be certain that climate change led to a strengthening or weakening in wind speeds. however "when the storms come there will be more rain associated with them."

He added: "These storms are nothing new, going back 100 years, but, because we are now more than 1C warmer as a whole versus pre-industrial times, every degree means 7 per cent more water in the atmosphere and more rain in these heavy rain events.

"When they come, they bring more rain, 100 per cent for certain, because of climate change."

If temperatures rise by 3C - which the world is currently on track for, despite efforts to tackle it - storms like Ciara and Dennis could bring around 20 per cent more rainfall.

"It would put a huge strain on flood defences if that were to happen," said Dr Byrne.

Professor Cloke added that there are a greater number of people living in areas at risk to flooding and further efforts needed to be made to protect them from the devastating effects.

"We should be using the whole toolkit of things to prepare for floods," she said.

Options include looking after soil so that it can soak up water, using uplands to catch water and creating "leaky dams" made of wood in streams to slow the water's flow down towards towns.

She also warned against building on flood plains.