Study – Storm rainfall in UK and Ireland made 20% heavier by climate change

Study – Storm rainfall in UK and Ireland made 20% heavier by climate change
24 May 2024

Climate change made the downpours that caused serious floods in the UK and Ireland last autumn and winter about 20 per cent more intense, according to a new rapid analysis by the World Weather Attribution group published Wednesday.

The two countries were affected by at least 13 severe storms over the period, 11 of which were named. Since 2015, storms that cross certain thresholds in terms of wind, rain or snow are named jointly by their met services as well as KNMI in the Netherlands.

Storms Babet, Ciaran, Henk and Isha, for example, were among the most damaging,  causing deaths and serious damage, power cuts, travel cancellations, and the loss of crops and livestock.

Rainfall for October to March was the second heaviest on record in the UK and the third heaviest in Ireland, the study says.

If global warming reaches 2°C, as expected by the 2050s, rainfall associated with storms will increase by an estimated 4 per cent and occur about once every three years, up from once every five years currently, with an atmosphere 1.2°C warmer, or once every 50 years in the pre-industrial period.

‘Heavy downpours’

Ellie Murtagh, UK Climate Adaptation Lead at the British Red Cross, said: “We know from our work across the UK that flooding has a devastating impact on people’s lives.

“Its effects can be felt for months and years afterwards and those that are most vulnerable, people suffering from poor health or living in inadequate housing, are often hit hardest.

“Heavy downpours linked to climate change are making our winters wetter and flooding more likely. It is crucial we adapt and manage this risk.

“We will continue to work alongside the government, emergency services and other charities to protect our homes, our livelihoods, and the most vulnerable in our communities.”

The Climate Centre’s science lead, Liz Stephens, said in January that river catchments across the country had been saturated since Storms Babet and Ciaran in October and early November, “loading the dice for floods in the winter rainfall”.

Water levels on the River Thames were higher at that stage than previous severe floods in 2003, 2007 and 2014.

“As in 2014, these floods have followed a very wet autumn, with climate change now expected to increase the risk of wet winters and flooding,” Stephens added.

British Red Cross first-responders in Cumbria working on the aftermath of Storm Babet last year. (Photo: BRC)