Cockermouth coverage perpetuates thousand year flood ‘myth’

Media coverage of the Cumbrian floods in November reinforced the dangerous idea that being hit by one extreme weather event decreases the likelihood of the same thing happening again any time soon.

Speaking at CIWEM’s conference on flooding and coastal risks this week, the Environment Agency’s Kate Marks said that lightning could strike twice and an incorrect concept of a thousand year flood was gaining a frustrating foothold in the popular psyche.

She said that the Cockermouth deluge was widely quoted in the media as being a one in a thousand year return period flood event.

She questioned whether this was indeed the case, and said such authoritative statements failed to take into account the element of uncertainty in any flood predictions.

The concept of a thousand year flood also provides a false sense of security, she said.

“Unfortunately it was quoted in the media and from there it spread like wild fire,” she said.

“Phrasing it in such a way mislead members of the public in particular. They see it as ‘well, it hasn’t happened for 1,000 years and it’s now happened so we’ll be safe for another 1,000 years’.

“[So] the myth of the one thousand year event continues.”

She said the Environment Agency’s communications guidance is very clear on the issue, and that a thousand year flood simply meant that there is a one in a thousand chance of it happening in any given year.

Sam Bond

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