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Ready for the floods?


Flooding in Upper Street, 2016. Picture: Islington Tribune.

It was the shocking images from Libya, this September, where Storm Daniel unleashed devastating floods on coastal cities, that got us thinking. Whole swathes of land had been swept into the sea, leaving an unofficial death toll of 11,300 lives - as well as a further 25 suicides since - almost as many as in the horrendous slaughter that is the war in Gaza. Inevitably, much was made of the age of the dams around the coastal city of Darma, as responsible for the sheer extent of the devastation. This is true, along with the fact that there are hundreds of similarly old, similarly ill kept dams around the world in a similar state - but we thought we’d investigate how much rain they had had.


We didn’t really have a good sense of rain levels when we started so 100 -400 mm of rain, which is what they received in Libya, whilst shocking, had no context. How many millimeters of rain fell on July 25th, 2021, when Walthamstow and Ladbroke Grove were hit by flash floods, we wondered? The answer: just 41mm. A friend was in Greece when Storm Daniel hit in September; the motorway they were driving along was swept away in front of them. Suddenly, we wanted to know every rainfall level for every recent storm. Daniel in Europe, Haiku in Fujian, Rina in New York, Babet and Ciaran in the UK had all come with unprecedented rainfall levels, causing significant flooding and risk to life, devastating thousands of homes, and in many cases, death to those caught up in them.




In order to provide further context, we took a look at the UK’s average rainfall patterns. What we discovered was that monthly rainfall in the UK has only gone over 200mm twice in the last decade; for Tuscany to receive over 200mm in less than 4 hours, via Storm Ciaran, is terrifying. And it is likely that we are no more prepared than Libya: according to an analysis of Environment Agency data obtained by Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace UK, 4,204 of England’s most important flood defences were in a poor or very poor condition in 2022, so damaged they are almost useless. (1) Instead of all those boys and girls names that storms are labelled, perhaps we should be calling them after the originators of these crises: Adani, BP, Chevron. What about JP Morgan Chase? Or even Yorkshire Water? Zara, anyone?






Climate change, and the extreme weather events associated with it, is upon us. We know from Nasa that, for every one degree Celsius that Earth’s atmospheric temperature rises, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere can increase by about 7%, according to the laws of thermodynamics. We are currently at 1.2 degrees of warming; studies show we could cross 2 degrees far earlier than expected (2). In September 23, New York screeched to a halt at 3 to 6 inches ( 80-160 mm) rain in a day, thanks to Storm Rina. Storm Daniel delivered 4 to 15 inches of rain (110mm to 400 mm ) in Libya (3) and 15 to 23 inches of rain (400-600mm) in Greece. (4) In China, Fujian received 554 mm (150mm) of rain in a single hour. (5)


It is only a question of time before we get hit with similar levels of rainfall in the UK. The question is: what does the capital city - its transport systems, its food systems, its health systems - look like at 100mm of rain? What does it look like at 200mm? At 400? In June this year, a major GP practice in Leicester was flooded and had to remain closed for three months, without emergency phone lines. (6) In October, Glasgow City Council received almost 100 calls to floods after being drenched with 180mm of rain. (7)

image Network Rail Scotland


As the Islington Climate Centre, what does 150 to 300 mm look like where we live and are we flood-ready? And if so, what can we do to get more flood-ready? How can we prepare for those who

will have to leave their homes? Are the new homes we are building more resilient to flooding? And how can we all work with local authorities to build better community resilience faster? These are questions for all politicians local and national; these are the questions that local journalists should be asking on the behalf of residents. We’ve seen that storm damage can lead to power outages, supply chain disruption and communication breakdown. It’s time to learn from those who have undergone these impacts already.


Lead image: Gideon Mendel.


Call to action: We’re setting up a working party to look at flood resilience in Islington and to support local groups and governments in their existing endeavours. Want to help out? Email islingtonclimatecentre@gmail.com with Flood Team as the subject heading. We look forward to hearing from you.


References


RESOURCES


The London Borough of Islington: Strategic Flood Risk Assessment, August 2018. Read here.


The Greater London Authority’s plans. Read here.


UK’s average climate by region. Read here.

The useful Floodlist. Read here.


Flood Barriers in Hackney. Read here.

Steamy Relationships: How Atmospheric Water Vapor Amplifies Earth's Greenhouse Effect, Ask NASA Climate. Feb 8, 2022. Read here.


FURTHER READING


Dominican Republic – 21 Dead After “Highest Ever Rainfall Total” Triggers Floods and Landslides. Floodlist, Nov 2023. The highest rainfall ever to occur in the Dominican Republic, which reached up to 431 mm in some areas of the National District, Read here.


Italy – State of Emergency After Storm Triggers Deadly Floods in Tuscany. Floodlist, Nov 3, 2023. 200 mm in 4 hours. Read here.


Two months after flood in Libya’s Derna, mental anguish still takes lives, Al Jazeera. Nov 15, 2023. Read here.


Storm Babet, Met Office, October 18 to 21, 2023 Read here.


Erewash declares climate emergency after 500 homes flood during Storm Babet. Derby Telegraph, October 20, 2023. Read here.


Where else will Storm Babet cause bad weather? A list of UK rain and wind warnings. October 19, 2023. Read here.


Knorr, Wolfgang. The Intuitive Sense of Impending Doom. Brave New Europe, September 22, 2023. On the 10th of September 2023. Climate scientist Knorr is stuck on my way to my family in central Greece, after the most intense precipitation event ever recorded in Europe. The motorway ahead of them was flooded for kilometers. Read here.

UK climate extremes. Read here.


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