Record UK rainfall highlights the need for SUDS solutions

Back in March, a blanket hosepipe ban was imposed following a prolonged period of winter drought. This naturally unwelcome move threatened to make the summer of 2012 a season of barren lawns and empty paddling pools. But in the second week of June, three of the country’s biggest water companies finally lifted their individual bans, following a period of what has been called ‘exceptional’ rainfall.

‘Exceptional’ rainfall

Hosepipe ban

On reflection, ‘exceptional’ is perhaps a tame term to use in describing the fluctuating weather patterns and record-breaking levels of rainfall experienced across the UK since April. The opening weeks of June alone have seen unseasonably heavy, ‘monsoon’ rainfalls, across parts of the nation – with areas of Wales and southeast England worst affected.

Older residents of towns such as Worthing and Bognor Regis have spoken of witnessing flood levels previously unseen in their lifetimes, while the Met office has confirmed the record-breaking extent of recent rainfall measurements. March, April and May saw increases in average monthly rainfalls of 40%, 242%, and 86% respectively. April’s rainfall levels broke all standing UK records for the month, and we will explore some of its key implications of this in our next Drainage Journal post.

A wet, wet summer

The joint importance of sustainable drainage solutions for multiple-applications, and the creation of SUDS legislation, is never more apparent than when volatile weather patterns threaten to disrupt the nation’s best-laid plans. Final preparations for the long-awaited London Olympics now hunker nervously under the threat of further heavy rainfall. Over the past few weeks alone, a number of pre-Olympic horse trial events, invaluable in terms of team GB preparations, had to be cancelled due to venue flooding.

Yo-yo weather patterns

June Floods

Following a dismal April, a heat wave gladdened hearts in the dying days of May, but just a week later the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee bank-holiday weekend was intermittently drenched by further heavy rainfalls. With flash flooding and scenes of street submergence returning in June, just as the Olympic torch flickers precariously on its pre-Olympic relay around the nation, a worrying, general weather pattern appears to have formed. If the historic summer of 2012 proves to be predominantly wet, with spot flooding and sporadic periods of sunshine and spiked temperatures, it will reflect to varying degrees many of our recent summers; most notably 2007, with its record-breaking summer floods.

Sustainable, infrastructural change

The key difficulty with heavy rainfall is managing a high volume of storm water on the ground at once – time is of the essence in preventing the development of a destructive flood scenario. Of course, even in a natural setting, storm water attenuation takes time, and the interim period therefore constitutes a flood. In an urban environment, the impact of flooding can be moderated to prevent the kind of destruction to businesses and homes recently experienced, through investment in intelligent, sustainable storm water management drainage systems.  Therefore, flood scenarios can be moderated as quickly as possible, reducing the length of the ground flooding episode and minimising the potential for damage.

Jubilee Rain

Potential disruption, through heavy rainfall and flooding, to events like the Diamond Jubilee or the London Olympics, or to the day-to-day lives of people during the holiday season, certainly causes pause for thought. It arguably highlights the urgent need for a focused reexamination of how the nation manages its water infrastructures, and for the systematic adaption of sustainable drainage and flood alleviation systems. We might not be able to control weather patterns, but we must be cognisant of them in anticipating our future surface water management needs.  

We will be exploring the instances, patterns and implications of recent British weather, on the Drainage Journal, soon. So, drop back for further updates.

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