It might be a little perverse to write about rain when I look out of the window and see brilliant sunshine, but on the other side of the world they are thinking about building arks! They have had more than their fair share of rainy days recently, maybe more than forty of them perhaps.
In the West of England. south of the Mendip hills is an area I know quite well. It is known as the “Somerset Levels” and is essentially a large are of low lying land that would be either under water or marshy if it were not for the drains and pumps that keep the area relatively dry.
In the current few months torrential rain has fallen on the whole of the UK and in the Somerset Levels this has caused problems with the drainage systems. The rivers are full and overflowing which means that there is nowhere to pump the water from the low-lying areas, and large parts of the Levels have been flooded.
Some locals complain that the reason for the flooding is that the rivers have not been dredged by the local councils and so can’t carry the amount of water that they should be able to. Even if this is true, which it may well be, it is hard to see how the rivers could cope with the vat amounts of water that will have to be pumped off the levels.
North of the Mendip Hills is another low lying area which I am not sure can be considered part of the Levels. However this area has (so far as I know) been pretty much untouched by the floods. It is interesting to note that the village of Nailsea was originally on an island though it would be hard to tell that now. Besides the village has expanded vastly even in the time that I’ve known North Somerset, so most of it would probably be flooded if the waters came back.
Most of the roads in the Levels follow the rivers and drainage channels and tend to be pretty straight, most of the time. Many of them date for Roman times or earlier and they were built over marshy land. The original road builders made causeways of bundles of reeds as foundations for the roads and new roads were simply built over the old roads. Over the years the reed bundles have not all rotted away equally, and as a result in some places the road level varies. As a result if you drive fast along some of the straighter roads it can feel like a gentle rollercoaster and can induce motion sickness in susceptible people.
It can also cause drivers to lose control and end up the drainage channel or rhyne, as they are known as in Somerset. This happened to a friend of mine, who then had to get the farmer to drag his car out of the rhyne. This obviously was not the first such happening at that spot (which was on a slight bend) because the car came out with someone else’s number plate hooked to the back.
My friend took another friend to show him where the accident had occurred and, in reversing the car onto a little bridge over the rhyne, missed the bridge and the car ended up in the rhyne again. The farmer, who towed him out again, grumpily mentioned that if this happened much more, he’d have to start charging.
I should not give the impression that the flooding issues recently (2013-2014) were only in the West of England. I’ve seen reports of flooding in many areas of the UK, including low lying areas around the Thames and in places in the Weald, south of the North Downs and north of the South downs. There were even floods near my old school, in an area that I would not have thought to have been prone to flooding. These are only the places that I recall being flooded and I’ve remembered them because I know the areas. Other places were also flooded.
The recent heavy rain in the UK is unprecedented or at least very uncommon. It could be that this is merely a conjunction of unusual events that have happened by chance, or it could be that the cause is global warning, or at least global change. If it is caused by global warming, this could be caused by human activity or it be caused by something else, such as changes in the sun.
I tend to think that the increases in temperature and the changes in climate are undeniable and probably due to the activities of humans. I say “increases in temperature”, but the recent very cold weather in the USA probably a result of the warming too, as the changes in climate are all linked. As you raise one end of a balance you cause the other end to dip. Or it may be simply that the climate variations are becoming more extreme.
Since at the end of January and the beginning of February 2014 is close to a new moon, tides will be higher than usual. As result the storm swell which increases the height of a tide is going to cause flooding in coastal areas. While this is not directly related to rain, already sodden coastal areas can expect even more flooding.
As a side note, the “king tides” caused by lunar conjunction have caused minor flooding in some areas in Auckland, New Zealand. However the weather is fine here, and it is mid-summer so people have been out and about observing and even enjoying the high tide. A recreational area has been partly flooded by the tide and provided some safe fun for children in canoes and on boogie boards.
Auckland residents have all headed to the beach to experience the super high tides, but because of the high tides there was little beach to see! Still, people had fun riding through the shallow water in the cycle lanes beside the motorway with other canoeing alongside them!