‘Endless’ rain in UK 10 times more likely due to climate crisis, study finds | Climate crisis

Last autumn and winter’s seemingly “endless” rain in the UK and Ireland became 10 times more likely and 20% wetter due to human-caused global warming, a study has found.

More than a dozen storms hit the region in quick succession between October and March, which was the second wettest period in nearly two centuries of records. The downpour caused severe flooding, at least 20 deaths, severe damage to homes and infrastructure, power outages, travel cancellations, and extensive losses of crops and livestock.

The level of rainfall caused by the storms would have occurred only once every 50 years without the climate crisis, but is now expected to occur every five years due to the 1.2°C global warming achieved in recent years. If fossil fuel burning is not reduced rapidly and global temperatures reach 2°C in the next decade or two, such severe wet weather would occur every three years on average, the analysis showed.

The experts behind the study warned that work to protect the UK and Irish populations was still “overwhelmingly poor” and that poor and vulnerable people were hardest hit. For example, some did not use the dehumidifiers provided to dry flooded homes due to high energy costs, while others could not afford to replace lost frozen food after storms knocked out power.

The analysis, conducted by climate scientists working as part of the World Weather Attribution group, compared the likelihood and intensity of wet winter in today’s warming world with how likely it would have been in a world without high levels of carbon emissions. Warmer air can hold more water vapor and therefore produce more rain. Hundreds of “attribution studies” have shown how global warming is already fueling extreme weather such as heat waves, wildfires, droughts and storms around the world.

“The seemingly endless rain this autumn and winter in the UK and Ireland had notable impacts,” said Dr Mark McCarthy, climate scientist at the UK Met Office and part of the WWA team. “In the future we can expect further increases – that is why it is so important for us to adapt to our changing climate and become more resilient.”

Dr Sarah Kew, a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and also part of the WWA team, said: “The UK and Ireland face a wetter, damp and moldier future due to climate change. Until the world reduces net emissions to zero, the climate will continue to warm and rainfall in the UK and Ireland will continue to become heavier.”

The study included storms Babet, Ciarán, Henk and Isha, which were among the most damaging. An independent analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit found that UK arable crop losses due to heavy rain alone would cost farmers around £1.2bn, compared to average production over the last decade. Vegetable producers would suffer more losses.

Dr Ellie Murtagh, UK climate adaptation lead at the British Red Cross, said: “We know that flooding has a devastating impact on people’s lives. Its effects can be felt for months and years.”

It said storms and flooding had caused weather-related home insurance claims in the UK to rise by more than a third, reaching a record £573 million in claims. One in seven people don’t have insurance, and many say they can’t afford it.

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UK ministers have been criticized for years for failing to draw up adequate plans to protect people against the impacts of global warming. In July, experts called the government’s most recent climate adaptation plan “very weak.”

“The level of implementation of adaptation interventions remains very poor,” Murtagh said. “Independent assessments in both the UK and Ireland have highlighted the lack of progress.”

Dr Friederike Otto, climate scientist at Imperial College London and co-founder of WWA, said: “To put it bluntly, climate change is already making life more complicated. Wetter winters are flooding farms, canceling football games, overflowing sewage systems and (making) food more expensive.

“Fortunately, we know the solutions. Replacing oil, gas and coal with cleaner and cheaper renewable energy sources; insulate homes and restore nature. All of this will make life cheaper and better for everyone, not more expensive.”