People hit by flooding in the north of England and in southern Scotland in December 2015 don’t need to be told that “1 in 100 year floods” seem to be happening a lot more often these days. Coming just two years after a similar series of storms flooded swathes of southern England, many are beginning to wonder if these events might be more accurately described as “1 in 2 year floods”.
What is less clear is the extent to which these events are a product of man-made climate change. It is notoriously difficult to prove that any one weather event is due to climate change. However, researchers from Oxford University have now concluded that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions increased the risk of the once-a-century wet January in 2014 by 43%. This is the result of two climate change related factors, as Dr Nathalie Schaller of Oxford University’s Department of Physics explained:
“Extreme rainfall, as seen in January 2014, is more likely to occur in a changing climate. This is because not only does the higher water-holding capacity [of the atmosphere] lead to increased rainfall, but climate change makes the atmosphere more favourable to low-pressure systems bringing rain from the Atlantic across southern England.”
With the most recent storms estimated to have caused around £1.5 billion in damages to homes and businesses, the most important question is just how likely these events are in future.