North South divide marked by extremes of flood and drought

The divide between North and South has been marked in catastrophic fashion this week, as extreme flooding devastated areas of the north while the south was issued with smog alerts as it basked in sunshine.

The week started with over a month’s worth of rain falling on the North York moors in less than three hours.

Flash floods swept through villages such as Hawnby, north of Helmsley, where a total of 70mm of rain fell between 4.15pm and 7pm on Sunday, 60mm of which fell in just one hour.

Access was cut off to the remote village, while the downpour washed away roads, bridges, and caused landslides across the area.

North Yorkshire rescue services mounted an emergency operation to find nine people reported missing and a huge clean-up operation is now underway.

Environment Agency staff are appealing to people for information and photographs of the flooding which they will use to review their river gauging stations and improve their understanding of localised issues.

Area flood defence manager Peter Holmes said: “It is essential that we get as much information as possible about flooding so we can improve our response to similar problems in the future, and the best people to give us eye-witness accounts are residents themselves.”

“Climate change means that we are going to see more extreme flooding and everyone needs to be prepared,” he added.

Summer flooding is becoming more common. Last year similar incidents caused havoc in Cornwall (see related story) when flash floods destroyed the town of Boscastle, while downpours in London overwhelmed the ageing sewer network, flooding the Thames with raw sewage (see related story).

While floods devastated the North, however, people in the South have been warned over water shortages, heatwaves and smog.

Caribbean style temperatures of 32ºC and higher have been recorded in parts of the South East – the first region to be issued with a hosepipe ban this year (see related story).

The heat may have brought a sudden surge on bikini and sunglasses sales but has also brought health warnings.

Defra has warned of high levels of smog forming in the high temperatures.

“Summer smog is produced by sun acting on substances in the lower atmosphere such as car fumes and solvents, producing ground level ozone. Smog can also contain elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide and breathable dust known as particulate matter,” the warning says.

It advises that those sensitive to air pollution, such as asthma sufferers, should avoid outdoor exercise, while all of us could reduce our production of ozone by avoiding unnecessary car journeys.

During the 2003 heatwave, approximately 800 people died as a result of heat-related poor air quality.

Full details on levels of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide can be found on the Air Quality website.

Elliot Morley this week warned that extreme freak weather is likely to become more commonplace as a result of global warming.

By David Hopkins

Environment Agency

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