A storm bringing 80 mile-per-hour winds and rain threatens to deluge flood-stricken Britons after a respite today from more than two months of downpours.
Hundreds of homes in commuter-belt towns along the River Thames to the west of London remain underwater, with the Environment Agency saying water levels may begin to rise again with fresh rains tomorrow. Swathes of the Somerset countryside in southwest England have been submerged since before Christmas.
“Some communities will see a brief respite today, but unfortunately the risk of flooding will continue,” Environment Agency Chief Executive Officer Paul Leinster said in an e-mailed statement. “We expect to see river levels rising again with more rain forecast for Friday and Saturday.”
Thames flooding may rival the worst last century, 67 years ago, the agency says. That’s due to what’s shaping up to be the wettest December to February in 250 years of records for parts of England. A storm that brought 100-mph (160 kilometers per hour) winds overnight caused havoc for rail commuters today.
Floods, fallen trees and downed power lines disrupted trains across England, according to operator Network Rail. While the level of the Thames today began to slowly fall in London’s commuter belt, the Environment Agency is warning that further downpours will prolong two months of flooding.
The agency today issued a new severe flood warning for Gloucester, its highest degree of threat, saying waters may overtop defenses at Alney Island, threatening homes. That adds to 14 severe warnings along the Thames and two in Somerset in southwest England, where flooding is already taking place. Another 133 warnings that inundations are expected have been issued, along with 233 alerts that flooding is possible.
To the west of London, Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire and the county of Surrey are threatened for at least the next three days “as the river reacts to recent and forecast rainfall,” the agency said on its website. “Impacts are expected to include widespread flooding affecting significant numbers of properties and whole communities.”
The agency has ordered temporary defenses from Sweden and the Netherlands. It’s also working on measures to protect the southern cathedral city of Winchester from rising waters on the River Itchen.
The Met Office weather service issued amber warnings for wind and rain tomorrow, the second-highest level. The rain warning covers parts of Devon and Cornwall and the stricken county of Somerset, where as much as 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) of rain may fall. The warning for winds gusting as high as 80 mph covers the south coast.
“The very strong winds will be accompanied by large waves along the south coast,” the Met Office said. “The public should be aware of the potential for disruption to travel as well as trees being uprooted and perhaps damage to buildings.”
A yellow rain warning, the next level down, covers southern England and southern and central Wales tomorrow and Feb. 15.
Last night’s wind left a trail of destruction in northwest England and Wales. A man was electrocuted yesterday by a downed power line.
A total of 56,098 customers remained without power this afternoon after 402,107 were reconnected, the Energy Networks Association said today on Twitter. In Ireland, hurricane-force winds left more than 250,000 customers without electricity at one point. About 165,000 homes and businesses remained cut off at lunchtime, according to Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board.
The Met Office recorded gusts of up to 108 mph in north Wales. At Crewe rail station in northwest England, a section of roof was blown off, landing on power lines, according to Cheshire Fire Service, which also reported fallen trees and collapsed buildings on its website.
“It was very frightening,” Josie Havelock, landlady of the Station Inn in Porthmadog, northwest Wales, where a section of roof blew off, told the British Broadcasting Corp. “Fifty years I’ve been here and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Storms from the Atlantic have brought record rains and tidal surges to Britain since early December, flooding at least 5,800 properties and disrupting road and rail travel. Prime Minister David Cameron pledged this week that money will be no object in tackling the effects of the flooding.
The Environment Agency estimates 1,135 homes have flooded in the Thames Valley since Jan. 29, with most still inundated.
The Met Office forecasts rain for four of the next five days for both London and the town of Bridgwater on the edge of the inundated Somerset Levels. “The impacts from this rainfall may continue on some rivers on subsequent days,” it said.