More on highest tidal surge since 1953 and December outlook

Tuesday 10 December 2013, 16:22

Paul Hudson Paul Hudson



The tidal surge which affected the east coast last week was the biggest since the historic coastal flood of January 1953 according to the Environment Agency.


In 1953 hundreds of people lost their lives. In Lincolnshire the sea came inland by 3 miles in the area around Sutton on Sea and Mablethorpe.


There is little doubt that the flood defences developed and built since the 1953 flood prevented a national emergency on Thursday night.


The Environment Agency says that flood defences now in place protected 800,000 properties along our coastline.


In Hull, the tidal barrier constructed in 1980 stopped the tidal surge which would otherwise have flooded 18,000 homes.


At its peak, the sea level recorded at the barrier measured 5.8m – the highest on record – and only 20cms from its top


Spurn Head has been badly damaged. According to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust the entire dune system has been moved 70 yards to the west, which, according to them, is a staggering 200 years of movement in 24 hours.




There’s now a strong signal that high pressure over the continent will decline, allowing low pressure from the Atlantic to dominate the UK’s weather later this week, lasting at least into the Christmas period.


This means we can expect periods of wind and rain, interspersed with brighter, showery conditions throughout the next two weeks.


There is no signal at all for any proper cold spell, although it is perfectly normal, especially later in December, for the air coming in from the west to be cold enough to allow some wintry precipitation - for example in showers following a cold front - mainly over the hills in northern Britain.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    So we have learnt that having the money to invest in infrastructure saves lives. Pretty obvious. So why do so-called environmentalists want to deny the developing nations cheap coal fired electricity generation that would lift them from poverty? Climate change enthusiasts are committing a crime against the bulk of humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    No one with any sense is denying anyone plentiful electricity in a modern world.
    It's that there is a concern that too high emissions could lead to most losing their
    lives in a seriously adverse climate or in oceans in a very different state to now.

    Long live cheap coal but with the CO2 most likely no longer a waste product but with
    new technologies the feedstock to new materials.

    Long live better materials to produce more economic solar power to power the tropics and

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    10 days into the 100 days of snow....

    It's not going well...

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    "At its peak, the sea level recorded at the barrier measured 5.8m – the highest on record – and only 20cms from its top"

    Current globally averaged sea level rise is 3.2mm/yr, or 0.32cm/yr. Assuming sea level rise in the North Sea off Hull is something similar (it may be less or more; this is just an example), then in 10 years, assuming no further change in the rate of sea level rise, a further 3.2cm would been shaved off the Hull barrier. At that rate, the Hull barrier would be breached by around 2070.

    Hull, sooner rather than later it seems likely that "you're gonna need a bigger barrier".

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I can only spot two very mild Decembers in official Met Office records (mean of 5.0 C or more) that were followed by a notably cold January and February - 1985 and, to a lesser extent, 1977. Though of course it's premature to assume that this December will be that mild.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Will Hull build a new barrier before the 'City of Culture' accolade comes into force (in 2017 I think)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    @5 ashleyhr (& previous thread)

    Yes the easterly is gone (for now) long live the westerly!

    Nice to see Paul confirming my take on post cold front cooler days in an otherwise mild westerly flow. Need to see the jet out of newfoundland backing to south before any high will get established over scandinavia etc - no great sign of that yet . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "Hull, sooner rather than later it seems likely that "you're gonna need a bigger barrier"."

    Given that it was built in 1980 when would you consider a reconstruction should reasonably be expected? 50 years? At which point you build it to 7 meters - job done!

    Has to be said as soon as I saw the Daily Express headline my forecast for the winter shifted to the mild side. I think all the vicious cold is going to lock in the US this year, shades of 1979 developing over there....

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    History is littered with accounts of flooding in the Humber area, one such drowned 10,000 people and as many cattle and sheep. Floods are a hazard of salt marsh areas especially with the tide, storm surge, wind conditions we had recently. This country has squandered £85Bn on useless green energy schemes, and so called climate mitigation measures but have ignored the one measure that would help local people, better flood defences.
    Spurn point is actually a barrier island which has a temporary connection to the mainland. The combination of long shore drift and Humber silt will repair this breach. Barrier islands are known for their ephemeral nature.
    Current sea level data shows that the feared rise is not happening. Sea water temperatures have fallen slightly which will cause a fall of levels. Do not be fooled by the modeled forecasts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    If sea water temperatures had fallen wouldn't that have caused a fall of levels already? I don't think there's any lag involved there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    #10, Quake
    The temperature drop is small and will affect the top layers first so thermal shrinkage is delayed as the heat loss continues. Sea level changes are not universal as sea level research has shown. Some areas are changed before others, some areas change at a differing rate to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Interestingly the warmer Western European pattern this year is correlated with sunspot maximum for cycle 24 even though it is a very low maximum compared to previous cycles.

    Meanwhile the jets overall continue to swing about more meridionally than they did during the late 20th century warming spell so other places around the northern hemisphere are experiencing anomalous cold outbreaks.

    As regards tidal surges a retired scientist has told me that there have been larger surges than this year's one since 1953 but they did not occur at high tide and so went unnoticed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    sea level has risen over the last few years. is that not thermal expansion?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    More brilliant modelling! I'm sold!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Nathan Rao and the Daily Express are at it again. This time it's "The Christmas from HELL":

    Rao has been making 'worst winter in the UK for decades' style predictions since mid October, as he did last year:

    On 17th November 2013 he warned of "100 DAYS OF HEAVY SNOW: Britain now facing worst winter in SIXTY YEARS warn forecasters": For this prediction to come true, heavy snows would have to fall somewhere in the UK every day starting tonight and lasting until March 22nd 2014.

    Who are these "forecasters"? The same two names keep cropping up: Jonathan Powell of Vantage Weather Services and James Madden of Exacta Weather (who also appears to be the proprietor of a website called 'Global Cooling & New Ice Age UK').

    Perhaps regular Daily Express readers have the memory retention of a goldfish, which means the paper keeps getting away with these unfulfilled predictions? Even so, surely one of these days the realisation will dawn on Nathan Rao that the phone numbers of Powell and Madden might usefully be deleted from his contacts lists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    #4 newdwr54

    Well, I took the dogs out as usual along the sea defences a mile down the road from here and snapped some pictures of the high tide mark. It got 1/3 of the way up the earthen wall, which is higher than I've ever seen, but still, 10 feet (approx. 3m) or so from the top. So, assuming your 0.32cm/year sea-level rise, I calculate that we won't need to worry too much about flooding in this immediate vicinity until 2950 AD!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    For those who have an interest in the North Sea - Wahl et al 2013:-

    "Observed mean sea level changes around the North Sea coastline from 1800 to present"

    Paywalled but the abstract is available and concludes with:-

    ".....The long-term geocentric mean sea level trend for the 1900 to 2011 period is estimated to be 1.5 ± 0.1 mm/yr for the entire North Sea region. The trend is slightly higher for the Inner North Sea (i.e. 1.6 ± 0.1 mm/yr), and smaller but not significantly different on the 95% confidence level for the English Channel (i.e. 1.2 ± 0.1 mm/yr). The uncertainties in the estimates of vertical land movement rates are still large, and the results from a broad range of approaches for determining these rates are not consistent. Periods of sea level rise acceleration are detected at different times throughout the last 200 years and are to some extent related to air pressure variations. The recent rates of sea level rise (i.e. over the last two to three decades) are high compared to the long-term average, but are comparable to those which have been observed at other times in the late 19th and 20th century."

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Whilst the sea defences along much of the East Coast held good, although not all. The area to the south around Boston in South Lincolnshire, was badly flooded and many householders appeared surprised at the depth of the flood water.

    Time for a review of the sea defences after some 60 years, based upon the latest experience?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "Sea level has risen over the last few years. is that not thermal expansion?" Also south east England is slowly sinking as Scotland continues to rebound (not Alex Salmond but continued 'recovery' from the last ice age as the weight of long-melted ice is removed and the land surface slowly rises at least for the present).

    As for the Express - who got a prediction almost correct last week ie winds would reach 90 mph on Thursday - they now have competition from the Daily Star. Apparently the latter rag expects 180 mph winds over Christmas somewhere in the UK. Bad news for Santa.

    In the real world it sounds like a nasty gale looming for Scotland and Ireland this Sunday.


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I worked as a forecaster with the Met Office for nearly 15 years locally and at the international unit, after graduating with first class honours in Geophysics and Planetary physics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1992. I then joined the BBC in October 2007, where I divide my time between forecasting and reporting on stories about climate change and its implications for people's everyday lives.

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