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Map of the Week: Floods of Tears

Mark Easton | 17:58 UK time, Friday, 20 November 2009

We talk about the weather as a way to turn strangers into fellows. It is a British trait, born of our natural reserve and a capricious climate, perhaps.

Of course, the tragedy that has befallen Cockermouth is not the stuff of idle chit-chat. It is a reminder of our frailty and our inability, despite enormous efforts, to make the world safe.

These kind of events are close to unpredictable. A look back at the Hydrological Survey report published on this blog earlier in the week shows that Cumbria was an unlikely candidate for flooding. The soil was not unusually saturated; river flows were within the normal range.

hs20091003soil.jpg

This graph indicates that the River Eden, for example, had been behaving entirely normally for the past few months. Perhaps those peaks in the summer were a clue to something, but the experts were far more worried about the situation in the east of Scotland than the one in the north-west of England.

eden.jpg

No, this seems to be much closer to what insurance brokers sometimes call "an act of God". Forgive my imperial education, but more than a foot of rain fell in Seathwaite Farm in just 24 hours. A foot! West Cumbria suffered more rain in a day than they would expect in the entire month of November. No wonder the Environment Agency is describing the situation as "unprecedented".

workington.jpg

Our thoughts are with those suffering in the area this evening, I am sure. There will be time for questions and finger-pointing and demands later. But for the moment, we are left with that feeling that comes thankfully rarely to our temperate islands: our defencelessness in the face of the great forces of nature.

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