Property damage from flash flooding in the UK is set to double in the next 50 years as climate change leads to the increased likelihood of extreme rainfall events.
Flooding represents one of the greatest natural hazards experienced in the UK, with expected annual damages totalling ~£1.4 billion. While a small proportion of these damages are linked to coastal flooding, the majority, around 60%, are associated with excessive rainfall leading to river-based (fluvial) and surface water (pluvial) flooding (Sayers et al 2017). Flash flooding – defined by EuroTempest as flooding caused by precipitation events with a duration between 3 and 6 hours – can have both pluvial and fluvial elements, as short bursts of intense precipitation can overwhelm narrow or steep rivers as well as drainage systems and urban surfaces. Climate change is expected to result in an increase in both the frequency and intensity of extreme summer precipitation events across much of the UK, resulting in a greater risk of flash flooding (Sayers et al 2017). In addition, in order to keep up with a growing population, developments on floodplains are rapidly expanding, resulting in an increase in the number of properties exposed to flooding.
As the climate changes, it is important to understand the impact of rising temperatures on the hydrological cycle in the UK and the associated cost of more frequent and intense precipitation events. It is possible that much of the cost associated with an increase in these types of events could be offset by enhanced adaptation measures, but only if, as discussed in the recent speech by the chair of the Environment Agency, the UK ‘prepares for the worst’ (Environment Agency 2019).
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