Extreme weather may become feature of UK’s climate, minister says

Three storms have battered the nation in the past week, including Storm Eunice, which left 1.4 million households without electricity.

21 February 2022

Extreme weather, like the storms that have lashed the UK, “could” become a feature of the country’s climate, a minister has said.

Three storms have battered the nation over the past week, including Storm Eunice which left 1.4 million households without electricity – some for up to 72 hours, with just under 30,000 still without power.

The Environment Agency has urged communities in parts of the West Midlands and the north of England, especially those along River Severn, to be prepared for significant flooding until Wednesday following high rainfall from Storm Franklin.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, speaking in the Commons on Monday, said “four people have tragically lost their lives in incidents related to storms”.

Winter weather Feb 21st 2022
The storms have wreaked havoc across the nation (Joe Giddens/PA)

He went on: “Some people, particularly in the south and east of England, have been without power for more than 72 hours.

“I want to reassure them that we have dedicated teams of engineers working night and day to get them reconnected as soon as possible.

“Continuing poor weather conditions have hampered those efforts but I’m pleased to say that as of now, over 98% of those affected by storms, over 1.4 million customers have had their power restored so far, their supply restored.

“However as of four o’clock today, there are still just under 30,000 households who are without power.”

Cabinet reshuffle
Kwasi Kwarteng has said 30,000 are still without power (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Kwarteng said he spoke directly with leaders at energy networks, adding: “They have given me assurances the restoration is happening as quickly as possible.”

He said: “The UK has been particularly badly hit by storms this year, but I’m pleased to say that overall our network operators and our brave emergency services have learnt lessons about how we can improve our response and will continue to learn those lessons.”

Labour shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said the storms should be a “wake-up call” to strengthen national “resilience” against power outages.

The former party leader added that the UK will face “significant threats of extreme weather” in the next few years.

Responding to the warning, Kwasi Kwarteng said: “I think he will be surprised that I am in a measure of agreement with him on this.

“I think he is absolutely right to warn that extreme weather events could, not saying they will, but they could become a feature of our landscape, of our climate.”

Among those affected was a married couple in Leicestershire, who narrowly escaped a large tree crashing through the roof of their home after going downstairs around 10 minutes.

Gowan Wharrier, 79, and his wife Barbra, also 79, were speaking to reporters after strong winds brought the tree down onto the thatched roof of their cottage, which was built in the 1640s.

Talking outside their home in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Mr Wharrier said: “The tree crashed down, breaking the roof above the two bedrooms, and actually damaging the living room as well.

“My son’s bedroom, that’s wrecked. My daughter’s bedroom… that’s wrecked.”

Winter weather Feb 21st 2022
Gowan Wharrier spoke after a tree crashed through his cottage  (Joe Giddens/PA)

Earlier on Monday, Energy Minister Greg Hands visited a home in the village of Oldbury, in Kent’s Ightham, where a crew in high-visibility vests was working amid toppled trees and a downed energy line to restore power.

David Thomas, 56, who lives at the home visited by Mr Hands, said he, his wife and children heard an “enormous crash” on Friday morning when the first two trees were blown over.

A yellow wind warning for England, Wales and south-western Scotland was in place until 1pm, while an amber warning for Northern Ireland expired at 7am.

Winds were peaking during rush-hour, according to Greg Dewhurst, senior meteorologist at the Met Office, who also said they were easing.

Heavy showers lashing northern England and Northern Ireland were set to move south-eastwards, he said.

Katharine Smith, flood duty manager at the Environment Agency, said: “”Heavy rain, affecting already wet areas, is likely to cause significant river flooding along the River Severn until Wednesday.

“We have teams out on the ground taking preventative action, closing flood gates, deploying temporary barriers and moving pumps and other response equipment to areas of highest risk.

“While a handful of properties have sadly flooded over the past few days, Environment Agency defences have protected more than 40,000 properties despite record river levels.

“We advise people to stay away from swollen rivers and not to drive through flood water as just 30cm of flowing water is enough to move your car.”

Winter weather Feb 21st 2022
Flooding has affected regions across the country (Ben Birchall/PA)

Storm Franklin’s highest gust of 87mph was recorded at the Needles on the Isle of Wight on Sunday evening, followed by gusts of 79mph on a mountaintop in Wales early on Monday.

Storm Eunice brought winds of up to 120mph to the UK and Ireland.

The Met Office said in some regions as much as five to six inches of rain had fallen in a “short period of time”.

Storm Franklin caused widespread rush-hour travel disruption on Monday morning, with National Rail telling customers not to travel as it said there was a reduced timetable, speed restrictions were in place on some routes and further disruption was expected.

The Environment Agency has issued hundreds of flood warning across the UK, as well as two rare “severe” warnings for the River Severn at the Wharfage, Ironbridge and Wribbenhall, Bewdley, where rising water levels pose a “significant risk to life”.

Streets in the town of Matlock, Derbyshire, have been flooded after the River Derwent burst its banks, with residents posting photos on Twitter and describing the town centre as “a river”.

The River Don burst its banks in the Sprotbrough area of Doncaster in South Yorkshire on Sunday night, and police warned people to stay away from dangerous “fast-flowing” water.

Last week marked the first time three named storms have been recorded within seven days since the storm-naming system began in 2015, with Dudley, Eunice and Franklin.

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