Linda Speight, a lecturer at Oxford University, has written an article for The Conversation about the impact of Storm Babet on Scotland. The storm caused dangerous floods, which were unexpected on the “dry side” of the country. The storm brought strong winds and heavy rainfall, resulting in overflowing river levels and flood defences, closed roads and railways, and even two deaths. The storm was officially named by the UK Met Office on Monday, October 16th, and a rare red warning was issued two days later, indicating the severity of the situation. The Scottish Government’s Resilience Operation was activated, and advance warnings helped to keep many people safe.

Meteorologists tracked the storm using satellites and weather observations, using hydrological models they were able to increase confidence about when and where the heaviest rainfall would land. Storm Babet was an unusual weather system that travelled from Portugal, picking up moisture from the Bay of Biscay and becoming trapped over the UK by a hard-to-budge high pressure system across Scandinavia. This resulted in a prolonged period of wet and windy weather and widespread flooding. The eastern side of Scotland was particularly impacted, as it is usually protected from the worst of the weather.

Hydrological models were used to predict where the biggest floods would be and to issue flood warnings. The South Esk river breached its flood defences in the town of Brechin, leading to the evacuation of 400 residents to safety, demonstrating the value of advance warnings for saving lives, and protecting property, and infrastructure.

This storm is another reminder that the climate is changing, and we will see more extreme rainfall, putting more people at risk. The Brechin flood defences were designed to protect the town from floods up to a 1-in-200-year event, but they were topped in less than ten years.

To help the UK be better prepared for floods, hydrologists are working together through the new UK Flood Hydrology Roadmap to improve the science and data underlying those warnings.



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