Rain: Winners and losers from the wet weather
- 3 January 2013
- From the section Business
It's official - 2012 was the second wettest year in over a century of UK weather records.
And although it was pipped for the top spot by the year 2000, the last 12 years have seen four of the wettest five years.
So which businesses and industries lost out most in 2012, and were there any winners?
Farmers - crops destroyed, higher prices
Farmers suffered badly last year, as the incessant rain severely stunted many crops.
Wheat yields were at their lowest since the 1980s, with production down about 15%, while UK farmers grew about 4.5 million tonnes of potatoes, one million fewer than the average, according to Phil Bicknell, chief economist at the National Farmers Union.
In fact, farmers across the UK lost about £700m in revenue, he says, while forking out an £600m for things like drying grain and extra pesticides to cope with the wet growing conditions.
Farmers in the South West and North West of England, where soil is heavy, were hit particularly hard, while those in East Anglia, where soil is relatively light and free-draining, were less affected.
Among the victims was one of the UK's top vineyards, which had to scrap its entire 2012 crop.
It was not bad news for everyone however. The Tregothnan tea plantation in Cornwall thrived in the warm, wet weather.
But overall, UK food production was lower, and that meant we had to import more from overseas, where prices were high for exactly the opposite reason - drought.
This meant we all lost out as food prices in the shops rose.
Gardeners - hosepipe bans and slug infestations
Gardeners generally like a mix of gentle rainfall interspersed with dry days. What they got instead was a drought followed by unremitting and occasionally torrential rain.
The early spring saw a hosepipe ban across much of the country, only for it to be lifted a few weeks later as the heavens opened.
"By the end of the summer, groundwater levels had quite extraordinarily risen back to normal, having been massively depleted previously," explained a spokesman Thames Water, which imposed a hosepipe ban for two months from April.
As for sales of goods to green-fingered shoppers; "gardening was a complete washout," says Patrick O'Brien, retail specialist at consultancy Verdict Research.
Overall sales of gardening-related products were down 9.6% for the year, according to Verdict. And while purchases of tools and sheds may have merely been postponed until this year, plant and compost sales have probably been lost for good.
But it was not all bad news - sales of slug pellets and weedkillers did very well as both types of pest thrived in the wet weather.
Shops - the wrong stock
Although overall sales in 2012 were little affected by the weather, there were big changes in what we bought.
"It was bad for clothing," says Patrick O'Brien of Verdict Research. "The weather really upset the seasonal pattern of sales.
"What people wanted to buy wasn't in harmony with what was available in the shops."
Take Marks and Spencer, for example. In the spring and early summer the UK's biggest clothing retailer reported that sales of raincoats rose 28% from the year before, macs up 35% and fashion knitwear up 84%. Meanwhile, sales of dresses were down 14% and women's linen clothes 28%.
Food sales were also thrown out of kilter. Retailers had expected - and stocked up for - extra sales around the Queen's Jubilee. But they were largely disappointed.
Many people seemingly stayed indoors with something to keep them warm. M&S said demand for its soups in the spring was up 30% from the year before.
B&Q had a bad spring and summer. Its sales fell 6% and shopper numbers were down 20%, as not only would-be gardeners but also outdoor DIY enthusiasts and barbeque gourmets were put off by the terrible weather.
In contrast, Dixons - owner of Curry's and PC World - said in May that its sales of tumble driers in April had doubled, while demand for electric heaters had shot up 10-fold from a year before.
The weather was also yet more bad news for the nation's High Streets - some of which were under water - accelerating the long-term migration of shoppers to online and to the shelter of high-end shopping malls.
Hotels and restaurants - customers stay home and dry
The rain helped deliver yet another flat year from the country's restaurants and pubs, according to the British Hospitality Association, as many chose to dine more comfortably at home.
The weak performance was particularly gutting, as hopes had been raised by the extra Jubilee and Royal Wedding-related holidays.
The unexpected downpour did, however, encourage people to nip into their local coffee shop for shelter, with Costa Coffee reporting a pick-up in business over the summer.
Tourism also suffered from what was the wettest June on record, with the number of Brits taking holidays at home on the wane. City breaks did better than rural trips.
The hospitality business did best where bookings were made in advance, such as weddings, according to the BHA.
Golf resorts have also been somewhat less enticing.
Roads and rail - landslips and bridge damage
While the nation's motorways and trunk roads held up well, many of its smaller roads did not.
The constant rain damaged surfaces - especially when the puddles froze. And some roads had to contend with a lot more than floodwater or a few potholes.
In Devon, one of the worst-affected counties, one road had to be closed off after rain caused it to partially collapse into a nearby cliff.
Local governments have been left to pick up the repair bill, and they are not happy.
The Local Government Association said that it is appealing to Westminster for a special ad hoc fund to cover the cost of road repairs this year - as happened in 2007 - as well as for further investment in resurfacing roads.
Damage has also been caused to bridges by "scouring" - the wear caused by flotsam colliding with bridge piers below the waterline of the rivers they span.
This is a problem for railway bridges too, according to Network Rail, and it employs scuba divers among its maintenance crew in order to spot damage to bridges - not to mention abseilers - to deal with some of its seafront lines.
The UK rail infrastructure company has been shelling out a lot more on account of the rain and flooding - not only on more inspections and more repairs, but it is also the one that ultimately pays the compensation costs when commuters' journeys are disrupted by floods and landslips.
A Network Rail spokesman said the company plans to demand more funding for a beefed-up inspection and maintenance team, as well as for investment in more weather-resilient bridges, embankments and rail alignments when it releases its five-year investment plan on Tuesday.
Utility firms - flooded sewers
Water companies began the year worrying about too little rainfall, having just experienced the driest two-year period on record in some parts of the country.
That all changed after April, and by the autumn and winter, with the rivers full and groundwater seeping out of the soil, the big concerns became overwhelmed sewers and flash flooding.
"Some rivers flooded their banks... and sent the flow of river water into our sewer networks, which are not designed to cope with that volume of water," said a Thames Water spokesman.
Pumping stations and treatment plants were affected by flooding, as were some unfortunate homeowners whose sewers went into reverse.
It meant that the company's emergency crews had to be constantly on standby, dealing with the its 109,000km of sewers, particularly as two thunderstorms struck London over the Christmas period.
And it was not just the water companies affected. An electricity substation near Reading was almost knocked out by the overflowing Thames on Boxing Day.
The gas and electricity networks intend to spend £110m by 2015 on improving their flood defences, according the industry body Energy Networks Association.