Northwest England Hit by Floods; Bridges Collapse; AIR Analysis

November 23, 2009

A series of violent storms struck the west coast of England, beginning last Thursday. Cumbria, the County just below the Scottish border, was the most severely affected area, where heavy rain caused extensive flooding in a number of towns.

At least six bridges in the area collapsed as result of the floods, and more are in danger. Authorities have closed a number of them, and are inspecting more than 1800 for structural damage. As a result traffic in the area has been severely disrupted.

More rain is forecast until at least Tuesday. Flood warnings remain in force: 10 for northwest England; six in Scotland; two for the Midlands, and four in Wales. The UK’s Met office has also issued warnings of possible flooding in Northern Ireland.

Risk Modeling firm AIR Worldwide noted that the new “downpour comes less than a week after the strongest storm of the 2009 season roared into southern England and Wales. Fortunately, the already saturated soils in those more southerly regions have not been hit as hard by the latest round of precipitation.”

In Cumbria a “month’s rainfall—about 314 millimeters (12.4 inches)—fell in the town of Seathwaite between 9 pm Wednesday to 9 pm Thursday, according to the UK Environment Agency (http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk) ” AIR reported. “This region usually receives more than 2 meters of rainfall annually, meaning that around 10 percent of annual accumulation fell in 24 hours. In many locations in Cumbria, the 24-hour rainfall accumulations exceeded rainfall accumulations with a one-in-ten year chance of occurring in this region,” explained Dr. Milan Simic, managing director, AIR Worldwide Ltd.

The EA reported that about 1,000 Cumbrian properties have been flooded so far. Churning water in the River Derwent collapsed the main bridge into the town of Cockermouth, with water levels reaching 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in the town, officials have evacuated 200 people.

Heavy rainfall has also triggered flood conditions in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, and in north and mid Wales. A rural district and small village in Dumfries and Galloway—experienced its wettest November day in 100 years this week. In Wales, power was briefly cut to 2,000 homes in Anglesey, off the northwest coast. Areas particularly affected in Wales include Conwy Valley, Dolgellan and Abergwili.

Preliminary estimates put flood related claims in excess of £100 million ($166 million), according to the Association of British Insurers (www.abi.gov.uk), but if the rains continue, they could go higher. Nick Starling, the ABI’s Director of General Insurance and Health, noted “Events like flooding highlight why insurance is so important. The first priority for insurers will be to ensure that every claim is dealt with as quickly as possible and they will do everything they can to help customers recover.”

“The weather system that affected the UK on November 19th was powered by a direct connection to a narrow tropical moisture plume that started its pole-ward trek from the northeast coast of South America on approximately November 17th,” Simic added. “Moisture plumes (sometimes called ‘atmospheric rivers’) are capable of transporting significant amounts of the water vapor moved towards the poles, and they do so by forming narrow regions of very moist and fast-moving air—roughly 240-480 kilometers wide—within the lowest 3,000 meters of the atmosphere. The result of this week’s moisture plume over the UK was heavy rain in northwest England and southwest Scotland.”

Sources: news reports, AIR Worldwide, UK Environment Agency, Association of British Insurers

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