Understanding the 2013/14 UK Winter Storms

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

This time last year Britain was experiencing the first wave of flooding and destruction caused by a storm surge along the East Coast and North coast of Wales and the heavy rain which followed (Thorne, 2014: 297). As we were to find out this was just the beginning of some of the biggest storms the UK has seen for two decades (Jones et al., 2014) and as a student at Aberystwyth University I experienced some of the storm damage first hand, see Figure 1. A recent themed section within The Geographical Journal presented a number of articles arranged around the theme of the winter storms and flooding in order to give a better understanding of the dynamics and interrelations behind them. In particular this shows the way in which the journal promotes the roles of geography and geographers in public and policy debates (Dodds, 2014: 294).

Figure 1. Storm Damage on the Aberystwyth Promenade in January 2014  (Wikimedia Commons, 2014).
Figure 1. Storm Damage on the Aberystwyth Promenade in January 2014
(Wikimedia Commons, 2014a).

The flooding initiated a number of debates, as Colin Thorne (2014) explains there were debates about blame with fingers being pointed at farmers and politicians (BBC News, 2014a; Monbiot, 2014) and debates about whether the UK is now experiencing the results of climate change, both debates are inherently geographical as are the solutions (Thorne, 2014: 297). Thorne goes on to conclude that the solutions to these issues require joined up governance, action and policy underpinned by science and engineering research (p306). This means that the Government needs to work with local stakeholders, scientists and engineers to work out long term solutions to flooding in the UK (p307). One such area of scientific research explained in detail in this issue is concerned with floodplain generation, John Lewin (p317) explains that understanding these semi-natural systems and their response to extreme events is important in contributing to mitigation efforts. Similarly Elisabeth Stephens and Hannah Cloke (2014: 310) discuss scientific and organisational developments with reference to the Flood Forecasting Centre highlighting the improvements which were utilised during the winter floods but also the challenges that remain for flood forecasting to reach its full potential. One particular challenge is for flood forecasting to find a way, “to link forecast thresholds to flood impacts and…prompt organisations involved to operate within a probabilistic mindset (p314).

Figure 2. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, February 2014 (WikiMedia Commons, 2014)
Figure 2. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, February 2014
(Wikimedia Commons, 2014b)

One of the most widely documented areas affected by the flooding was the Somerset Levels  (BBC News, 2014b), see Figure 2. above. Hugh Clout situates this devastating flooding within a longer time frame through a re-examination of ‘The draining of the Somerset Levels’ by the late Michael Williams. Williams’ book explains the struggles of “landowners and farmers to manage floodwater and reclaim land from medieval times to the second half of the twentieth century” (p338). Similarly McEwen, Jones and Robertson provide a geographically grounded discussion drawing on arts and humanities and social science research projects alongside the physical and environmental sciences to discuss our disciplines wide and interconnected contribution to flooding on the Levels (p326). This themed section in the Geographical Journal is in itself an illustration of this interconnection, whilst John Lewin’s article presents a physical science explanation of floodplain development and subsequent flooding contextualises the winter events within a longer timescale, so too does Clout’s reading of Williams’ personal account of the changing landscape. All of the articles in this themed section draw together to show the dynamic and comprehensive geographical reading of the winter storms in a way that, “…inspire[s] wider geographical reflection about how flooding gets engineered, embodied, experienced and understood elsewhere” (Dodds, 2014: 296).

Figure 3. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, January 2009 (Wikimedia Commons, 2009)
Figure 3. Flooding on the Somerset Levels, January 2009
(Wikimedia Commons, 2009)


60-world2 BBC News (2014a) ‘Floods: Environment Minister Owen Paterson orders action plan’, BBC News, published online 27th January

60-world2 BBC News (2014b) ‘Somerset floods crisis: How the story unfolded‘, BBC News, published online 19th March 2014

books_icon Clout, H. (2014) ‘Reflections on The Draining of the Somerset Levels’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 338-341

books_icon Dodds, K. (2014) ‘Après le deluge: The UK winter storms of 2013-14’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 294-296

60-world2 Jones, S., Mason R. & McDonald H. (2014) ‘Weather: UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue‘, The Guardian, published online 5th January 2014

books_icon Lewin, J. (2014) ‘The English Floodplain’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 317-325

books_icon McEwen, L., Jones, O. & Robertson, I. (2014) ‘‘A glorious time?’ Some reflections on flooding in the Somerset Levels’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 326-337

60-world2 Monbiot, G. (2014) ‘How we ended up paying farmers to flood our homes’, The Guardian, published online 18th February 2014

books_icon Stephens, E. & Cloke, H. (2014) ‘Improving flood forecasts for better flood preparedness in the UK (and beyond)’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 310-316

books_icon Thorne, C. (2014) ‘Geographies of UK Flooding in 2013/4’, The Geographical Journal, 180(4), 297-309

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2009) Flooding on the Somerset Levels in January 2009

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2014a) Aberystwyth Promenade Winter Storm Damage 

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2014b) Flooding on the Somerset Levels in February 2014


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