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Weather: UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue

 
Tidal Waves in Ireland

Strong winds and high tides batter the coastal road close to Newtownards, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Weather: UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue” was written by Sam Jones, Rowena Mason, Henry McDonald and agencies, for theguardian.com on Sunday 5th January 2014 17.02 UTC

Britain remains in the grip of the worst run of winter storms for two decades, with 70 flood warnings in place throughout England and Wales and a further 217 areas on flood alert.

The storms and floods have so far claimed three lives, including that of a man who is thought to have drowned in Oxford after his mobility scooter fell into a river on Saturday night.

The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings of ice and rain, predicting river and surface flooding as well as travel disruption, mainly in south Wales and the south-west and south-east of England. Up to 40mm of rain could fall on higher ground.

Coastal areas – particularly in southern England – are most vulnerable because of unusually high tides and the arrival of a strong Atlantic storm. The Thames barrier will remain closed to protect land near the river. Inland rainfall will put pressure on rivers, endangering nearby communities including those along the river Medway in Kent, the river Severn estuary in Gloucestershire and the river Thames in Oxford and Osney, where the latest death occurred.

Thames Valley police were called to Osney Lock at 6.30pm on Saturday after receiving a report that a man apparently driving his mobility scooter along a flooded footpath had fallen into the river. The 47-year-old man, from the Oxford area, was pulled from the lock but died at the scene. His death follows those of a 27-year-old man from Surrey, who was found on Porthleven Sands beach in Cornwall after he was swept out to sea on New Year’s Eve night, and a woman who died after being rescued from the sea in Croyde Bay, north Devon.

Meanwhile, dozens of volunteers in south Devon have resumed their search for missing 18-year-old student Harry Martin, who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather.

The strong winds, persistent rain and tidal waves are predicted to batter the UK for at least another two days, as emergency services attempt to cope with the trail of devastation already created by the severe weather. Matt Dobson, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, said the rain “simply has nowhere to go” because weeks of severe weather had left the ground waterlogged and rivers rising over their banks.

“It’s very unusual to have so many powerful storms come in one after the other in such a short space of time; we haven’t seen anything like this since about 1991,” he said. “The nasty weather of the last few days is going to continue across the UK, with the combination of high tides and a powerful storm putting coastal areas particularly at risk. Any rain will mean more flooding as the ground is saturated and swollen rivers are coming up against strong waves.”

More than 200 homes have been flooded from Cornwall to Scotland, with miles of coastline affected and roads and fields across the country left under water. Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away from coastal areas, where waves up to 12m (40ft) high have lashed the land.

A man and child were almost swept away by a huge wave at Mullion Cove in Cornwall as they peered over the sea wall to watch the raging sea. Elsewhere in Cornwall, vehicles driving on a coastal road were swamped and almost washed away by a tidal surge.

In Aberystwyth, a man was rescued by lifeboat after he ignored police warnings and became trapped when photographing waves from a harbour jetty. Aberystwyth University has deferred the start of the examination period by one week and is advising students not to travel to the coastal town until the middle of next week. The strong tides are said to be the worst to batter the Welsh coast in 15 years, while the coastal surge of recent days has also tested more than 1,850 miles of flood defences in England.

Trains have suffered disruption with services in west Wales and from Newport and Bristol to the south coast affected by the weather. There were also delays at the Port of Dover because of force-five winds.

In Northern Ireland coastal roads in Co. Down have been submerged with water and temporarily closed as more high winds and heavy rain batter the province.

The Portaferry Road on the Ards Peninsula has been shut off because of deep water flooding. And the main road between the coastal towns of Rostrevor and Warrenpoint were also closed on Sunday after huge waves caused flooding.

Across Co Down thousands of sandbags were distributed to fortifiy homes near the Irish Sea coast.

David Cameron has pledged that lessons will be learned from the flooding but insisted that the Environment Agency (EA) has been given the funding to protect frontline services. The government’s flood-control strategy has been criticised after it emerged that an estimated 1,700 jobs are to be axed at the agency, with 550 staff from the floods team to go.

 

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