North Sea Floods 2013 and 1953



On Wednesday the Environment Agency released this warning

The Environment Agency and Met Office are warning that gale-force winds, large waves and a tidal surge caused by low pressure will combine with high tides tomorrow (Thursday), throughout Friday and to Saturday morning, bringing a risk of significant coastal flooding.

Initially the surge was reported the strongest in 30 years. At 14:00 Saturday 7th December when warnings were lifted this had changed

The Environment Agency is now lifting flood warnings following the most serious tidal surge in over 60 years.The surge, which saw around 1,400 properties flooded, resulted in record sea levels, which in places were higher than those seen during the devastating floods of January 1953.

Apart from the barriers that have been built since – and we owe our thanks to the engineers and hands that made them  –  the sea is not as cold now (~10C) as it will be in two months time

In January and February, the typical temperature of the North Sea is 4–5 °C.


Notice the effect of the late spring in 2013 on sea surface temperatures


Current Sea Surface Temperatures
Image Met Office

Also of note, as Tim Channon points out, was the wind blowing from the west, evidenced by the flooding on the west coast. Ray (suricat) also notes how the models got it wrong for Essex, something said to me also by Piers Corbyn as the main threat was for the low countries and the winds were not funnelling the waters into the channel.

It is worth considering that the 1953 was preceded four years earlier by another disastrous flood.

The main bulk of text that follows comes from The east coast Big Flood, 31 January–1 February 1953: a summary of the human disaster by Peter J Baxter for the Royal Society. Sadly instead of looking at the 1953 flood as just one part of the need to be aware of our coastal weaknesses, shared by our North Sea neighbours, [my emphasis]

The need for a reappraisal of the disaster arose during a project undertaken for the Department of Health (England and Wales) on the Health Effects of Climate Change in the United Kingdom (Department of Health 2002). The chosen climate scenario for 2050, based on a future 1% per annual increase of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, forecast a mean sea-level rise of 41 cm for East Anglia which, together with a probable increase in the frequency of severe winter gales, could result in a substantially higher risk of major flooding events along the east coast, in terms of both their frequency and magnitude. The specific remit of the project’s working group was to explore the implications of climate change for the National Health Service, and the increased hazard to life from windstorms (Baxter et al. 2002a) and coastal floods (Baxter et al. 2002b) clearly needed to be included. The Big Flood of 1953 was the obvious reference case for study.

No real need to say that the threat to our coasts from emissions related climate change is bogus. The threat from the sea, which plagued our ancestors and has radically altered the coastline is ever present and appears to happen most during cooler periods when the air masses are mixing.

Noteworthy in figure 14, is the high water-level mark for 1 March 1949, which had been the worst flood for 65 years. This should have been a ‘wake-up call’ and should have initiated measures that might have reduced the impact in 1953, but the implications were ignored at the time.


Years listed are 1883, 1949, 1953, 1961, 1978.
The two highest levels (1953 and 1978) are in January.

I would go further and say even earlier lessons were missed as shown by the image (above). They have not been missed this time and damage was relatively minimal.

Flood barriers in King's Lynn. Photo Shan Durrant

Flood barriers in King’s Lynn. Photo Shan Durrant

However, the threat from coastal flooding is always there and we will never be safe no matter how well we prepare. As Peter Baxter points out (my emphasis)

In the most populous places, the coastal population has risen by 30–90% since 1953 All along the coast this story has been repeated: these are not the marginal dwellers of yesteryear, but people who have chosen to live all year round by the sea out of modest affluence. Paradoxically, the strengthened defences may have provided, in consequence, the potential for further human disaster rather than eliminated it.

This is something I highlighted with the early Monsoon in India and is consequence of such a large global population.

We also have to consider how any weather event can be magnified in the right circumstances. Tropical Storm Sandy was a perfect example, combining with high tides. With the jetstream so meridional (note the current deep cold dip into America and the warmth on our side of the Atlantic), as it has been in past cooling periods, it is not unreasonable to expect this to keep happening.

Reducing carbon will make no difference to these events but will greatly affect our ability to prepare or recover – what powers the cranes, the boats, the engines? We do not need to scare everyone with the bogey man of human induced climate change, however ambulance chasing climate vultures like Jeff Masters continually need correcting* as they spout nonsense every time. As another example Bill McKibben produced this EPIC FAIL

The UK Met Office have said no such thing, no doubt aware they would be ridiculed using their own words

This is the problem with climate activists and morons, they really believe that everything is unprecedented and have no grasp of anything related to climate or weather. For what it’s worth Jeff Masters wrote this on Monday

As we’ve so many times over the past few years, the jet stream is stuck in an unusually wavy configuration that is bringing remarkable hot and cold weather extremes to the entire continent.

From Science magazine in 1975 (h/t Steven Goddard)

During cooler climatic periods, however, the high-altitude winds are broken up into irregular cells by weaker and more plentiful pressure centers, causing formation of a “meridional circulation” pattern. These small, weak cells may stagnate over vast areas for many months, bringing unseasonably cold weather on one side and unseasonably warm weather on the other. Droughts and floods become more frequent and may alternate season to season, as they did last year in India. Thus, while the hemisphere as a whole is cooler, individual areas may alternately break temperature and precipitation records at both extremes.

If global temperatures should fall even further, the effects could be considerably more drastic.

* This was Ryan Maue’s blunt take on Jeff Masters

I don’t care what Masters says — long since tired of correcting his bogus stats on tropical cyclone history


Comparison Charts 1953 and 2013

A look at 120hr charts starting one day before for 1953 and 2013 viewed side by side, Click images for larger versions. Note the 1953 charts are from the excellent NCEP reanalysis at Wetterzentrale (goes back to 1871) and the 2013 charts are from GFS 00z (and are for 6 hours ahead are from Meteociel


gfs-2013120500-0-6 Rrea00119530131gfs-2013120600-0-6 Rrea00119530201gfs-2013120700-0-6 Rrea00119530202gfs-2013120800-0-6     Rrea00119530203

You may also be interested in an animation of the surface charts and jetstream for the 2013 event which can be found here.

Further Reading:

Great Flood 50th Anniversary Suppliment


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