UK – Communities on England’s East Coast Prepare for Storm Surge Floods

Communities along the east coast of England have been told to prepare for large waves and possible flooding throughout Friday 13 January and into Saturday morning. The Environment Agency said that counties particularly at risk include Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

According to a BBC report, around 15,000 people could be evacuated, including 2,500 in Jaywick, near Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, 3,000 in Skegness, Lincolnshire and 5,000 properties near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

The storm surge may also threaten parts of the Netherlands coast. Last week, storm surge caused flooding on Germany’s north east coast, north western Poland and in coastal areas of Denmark.

Winds, High Tides and Large Waves

Gale force winds combining with high tides are likely to result in large waves carrying dangerous debris, like rocks. The conditions are also expected to cause traffic disruption and could affect properties on the coast.

Wave heights in the UK can be checked via the Wavenet data on the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) website here.

The Environment Agency is urging people to to take extreme care near the coast and asked people to check their flood risk on GOV.UK  or call the Environment Agency’s Floodline on 0845 988 1188 for further information.

Mark Sitton-Kent, National Duty Manager at the Environment Agency, said:

“Gale force winds and high tides are likely to create large and dangerous waves along parts of the east coast on Friday and Saturday. These conditions could also cause flooding to coastal roads and could impact properties.

“We understand that powerful tides can be dramatic, but please do not put yourself at unnecessary risk by going to the coast for a thrill or to take pictures. Please do not drive through flood water: just 30cm of flowing water is enough to move your car.

“We are prepared to take action wherever it is needed. We have moved resources and equipment to the coast and the army is on standby to assist if needed.”

Norfolk Flood Response Plans in Place

In a statement earlier today, Norfolk Police said that over the last 24 hours agencies in Norfolk, including emergency services and all local authorities, have been working with the Environment Agency to put well-rehearsed contingency plans in place to protect those communities affected.

Norfolk police said that locations currently identified as likely to be most affected are Great Yarmouth, Wells, Walcott, Salthouse and King’s Lynn. Any households directly affected will be contacted in person, in due course, according to their local flood management plan.

Superintendent Dave Buckley, who is leading the multi-agency response, said: “Norfolk has tried and tested flood response plans which are currently in the process of being activated, in line with Environment Agency advice.

“A multi-agency co-ordinating group has been convened twice to ensure appropriate plans and resources are in place.

“The group is planning for potential disruption for a prolonged period of up to 12 hours and households in those affected areas should be mindful of this.

“I would also urge members of the public not to put themselves at risk by gathering near to the water’s edge to watch the waves – while I accept they may be impressive you are putting yourself in dangers way. We would ask people to keep away from the seafront and flood water.”

Flood Defences in Operation

In addition to equipment already along the coast, Environment Agency teams have moved 7,500 metres of temporary barriers and 25 pumps to depots and towns including Newcastle upon Tyne, Blythe, Great Yarmouth, Chelmsford, Rye, and Trusthorpe and South Ferriby in Lincolnshire.

All east coast flood gates have been closed, including the Hull tidal barrier, which was closed on Thursday, 12 January.

Flood Warnings

As of early 13 January, 2017, there were 11 Severe Flood Warnings in place in England. A Severe Flood Warning means there is a danger to life and the potential of severe flooding. The warning were for the following locations:

  • Aldeburgh and Thorpeness
  • East bank of the River Yare at Great Yarmouth from South Denes to South Quay
  • East banks of the Rivers Yare and Bure at Great Yarmouth
  • Lowestoft Seafront and Docks
  • North Bank of Lake Lothing
  • Oulton Broad near Mutford Lock
  • Rivers Yare and Bure from Runham Vauxhall to Scare Gap
  • Snape, Iken and surrounding marshland
  • Southwold and surrounding marshes
  • West bank of the River Yare at Great Yarmouth from Gorleston to Ferry Hill
  • West Bank of the River Yare at Great Yarmouth including Southtown and Cobholm

88 Flood Warnings (Flooding is expected, immediate action required) and 75 Flood Alerts (Flooding is possible, be prepared) were also in place.

For all up to date warnings, see the flood warnings map from the Environment Agency here.

See the video below for an explanation of the three levels of flood warnings used in the UK.

Storm Surge – Lessons from North Sea Floods of 1953

Many lessons have been learned since the disastrous North Sea storm surge floods of January 1953.

In the UK, flooding was experienced over a 1,000 mile stretch of the east coast, with the worst affected areas being in Essex and the Thames estuary.

According to the UK Environment Agency, 307 people died in southeastern England, with 58 deaths in Canvey Island alone. An estimated 160,000 hectares of land was flooded, over 24,000 homes destroyed and 40,000 people evacuated.

The disaster led to the building of new flood defences, such as the Thames Barrier.

Map of 1953 North Sea Floods
Map of 1953 North Sea Floods. Image: Environment Agency

The east coast of England was more recently affected by a storm surge in December 2013, when thousands were forced to abandon their homes as tides in parts of the North Sea reached higher levels than during the devastating floods of 1953.

What is Storm Surge?

According to the UK’s Met Office, a storm surge is a change in sea level that is caused by a storm. They can lead to extensive flooding and are dangerous for people living in many coastal areas.

The Met office adds that “the main cause of a storm surge is high winds pushing the sea water towards the coast, causing it to pile up there. There is also a smaller contribution from the low pressure at the centre of the storm “pulling” the water level up, by about 1 cm for every 1 millibar change in pressure. This is called the inverse barometer effect, and is similar to what happens when you drink through a straw.

“The strong winds in the storm generate large waves on top of the surge which can cause damage to sea defences, or spill over the top adding to the flood risk. In the case of tropical storms (such as hurricanes) there may also be a very large amount of rain which further increases the risk of flooding.”

What is storm surge? Image: Met Office
What is storm surge? Image: Met Office