Weatherwatch: odds shortening on repeat of disastrous 1953 North Sea flood

As sea level rises, chance grows of there being another similar disaster caused by low pressure and a spring tide

One of my earliest memories is of my father tuning in the radio and his face turning ashen white. His shock was caused by hearing the news of the 1953 flood that had inundated the east coast, including parts of Norfolk where he was born and many of our family still lived.

The flood had affected many communities along the North Sea coast, claiming more than 300 lives in the UK and more than 1,800 in the Netherlands, with vast areas of farmland flooded in both countries. The devastation was the result of a deep depression, with high winds from the north funnelling a wall of water down the North Sea, coinciding with a high tide. As the sea narrowed the towering waves overtopped long-neglected flood defences.

It took days to discover family members were safe, months to repair damage to homes and farms, and years for the lessons learned to be implemented. These included early warning systems for flooding, restored sea defences and eventually, in 1982, the Thames Barrier to protect London. These measures were all designed to prevent another similar catastrophe.

With sea level rise accelerating to 4mm a year and stormier seas forecast, the odds on there being another similar disaster caused by the same coincidence of low pressure and a spring tide shorten every year.


Paul Brown

The GuardianTramp

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