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The science of flooding

Anthony has an interesting report about a new paper that finds that increased flooding is mostly due to increased exposure - in other words that we are building homes closer to rivers than before. Flooding is therefore yet another area in which an impact from the warming at the end of last century is yet to be demonstrated.

Is there any justification for the kind of ambulance chasing exhibited by the Committee on Climate Change, for example this little gem from Lord Deben?

I hope floods will cause pause among dismissers. Can't forget "some woman Slingo" It revealed contempt they have for science.

If we recognise that the science is showing us that we cannot detect any influence of climate on flooding then I would posit that there is no justification at all. The contempt for science comes solely from the members of the committee and Professor Slingo who attempt to insinuate a link between what happened in Somerset and carbon dioxide, without any scientific evidence to support them,

The reality, as ever, is that there is only hypothesis and speculation.

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Reader Comments (67)

"It revealed contempt they have for science."

Whenever anyone says something this, always, immediately correct them thusly : "... contempt they have for bogus science".

Aug 20, 2014 at 8:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterTuppence

Sorry, Selwyn. My contempt (like Tuppence's) is for bogus science and for those who pursue it, like Slingo and you.
My contempt for you has not altered one iota since I first became acquainted with you 50 years ago!
My contempt for Slingo is recent but just as sincere. Every time she opens her mouth in public she demonstrates total contempt for those whose knowledge of genuine science is infinitely greater than hers and for the public who rely on the ever more bizarre outpourings from her Agency.

Aug 20, 2014 at 8:54 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Isn't the likes of Lord Deben more like hoax callers. Crying that there is an disaster taking place, when there isn't.

So now we have a new urban effect to add to UHI. What to call it?

Urban flooding effect, 24hr news effect (needs work)

Aug 20, 2014 at 8:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Well said.

Unfortunately when people like Nigel Lawson try to set the record straight, the biased BBC decides that censorship is required.

Aug 20, 2014 at 8:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Mike Jackson

My contempt for you has not altered one iota since I first became acquainted with you 50 years ago!

I'm with you Mike. I came across Seldom Glummer about 15 yrs ago. A nastier lay vicar you couldn't wish to meet. He is everything he appears to be.

Aug 20, 2014 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Causing the recent flooding to urbanisation, population, (and flood plain management) ... while perhaps "newly discovered" by some (ignored by others) has been known for centuries. Basic part the Hydrology coursework I did at University decades ago. Those wishing to learn a bit about the history, see Ansit Biswas's book "The History of Hydrology".

Aug 20, 2014 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

Well at least we are 'dismissers' now - a slight improvement. The difficult fact for these prophets of doom to face up to is that science is all on the side of the dismissers and it always has been. All they have left in their toolkit is fact-avoidance and sanctimoniousness.

Gummer really should have learnt from the BSE debacle that scientists are often ridiculously pessimistic or ridiculously optimistic en masse. With BSE they were first one then the other and in both cases the scientific consensus was wrong.

Aug 20, 2014 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

What Gummer, Slingo and the like conveniently forget is why the Somerset Levels are called the Somerset Levels and why the Fens are called the Fens.

Aug 20, 2014 at 9:49 AM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

Agree completely about Gummer. Used to be my MP.

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

Its strange that it takes a study to point out the bleeding obvious. This was the orthodoxy until these semi religious idiots got involved.

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterTrefjon

This is what the Met Office said about the recent floods:

As yet, there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change to the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding. This is in part due to the highly variable nature of UK weather and climate.

Nevertheless, recent studies have suggested an increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms that take a more southerly track, typical of this winter's extreme weather. There is also an increasing body of evidence that shows that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is consistent with what is expected from the fundamental physics of a warming world.

More research is urgently needed to deliver robust detection of changes in storminess and daily/hourly rain rates and this is an area of active research in the Met Office. The attribution of these changes to anthropogenic global warming requires climate models of sufficient resolution to capture storms and their associated rainfall. Such models are now becoming available and should be deployed as soon as possible to provide a solid evidence base for future investments in flood and coastal defences.

By starting with the words "as yet", they are implying they'll soon find the evidence. They also love to use the phrases "increasing body of evidence" - where and what is it? and "consistent with". Not much science on display. They need much more money to be able attribute the changes to AGW, implying that as always, they aren't coming at the issue with an open mind, but know the answer they are trying to get (more policy-based evidence).

Were the Met Office to be honest, impartial and scientific, they would have said:

We do not know the cause of the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding. This is due to our lack of understanding of what causes extreme weather.

There may have been an increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms that take a more southerly track, typical of this winter's extreme weather. We do not know the cause of this.

More research is urgently needed, for which we need more money.

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Funnily enough John Gummer was happy to show that risks of BSE were low by letting his child eat a beefburger for a photo op.

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

It annoys me mightily that politicians and scientists with political leanings choose to make claims that are at best speculation and at worst do not agree with common sense. The real scientists shame them by actually doing real research. Well done University of Southampton.

There are so many things that obscure the picture of weather effects on population that anyone should be wary of making claims about it. Things have both improved and got worse due to man's intervention. Flooding in particular is subject to countless variables, not least the aging infrastructure. How many of us live on roads with 100+ year old sewers? Remember that block of flats in the northeast undercut by water? The area was an in filled valley with a very old culvert running below. The culvert had collapsed and not been repaired in the May before the floods and everyone was surprised when the stream found it's own route when it was in full spate?

Deben, Slingo et al, use this sort of alarmism incautiously. Eventually the average person cottons on to the con and then stops believing anything they have to say. I'm sure the people of Somerset are firm in the belief that squawks about climate change are an excuse for having under maintained the rivers. Slingo in particular should have known that the rainfall that affected the Somerset Levels was the result of a very fixed jet stream firing rain storm after rain storm at that area. Any theories that the behaviour of the jet stream being the result of rising temperatures are very speculative and should not be used as propaganda.

That thing about not fooling all the people all the time should become a motto for the warmist brigade so that they remember that their lies will come back to bite them.

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Philip Bratby says: "Were the Met Office to be honest, impartial and scientific, they would have said:..."

Philip, I would have gone on to say that being as they are dishonest, I'm surprised they didn't actually claim that the 'recent studies' produced 'evidence' of a link to bad weather - even though the studies were actually model runs.

If we are 'dismissers', I find Gummer and Slingo dismissive.

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:43 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

I found the Stevens, Clarke & Nicholls paper and a word search failed to find - farming, soil, compaction, land drainage. Although they do nod to the potential of land use changes to affect flood hazard. If land that used to be permeable is made less permeable, the land receiving the drainage from it will be more prone to be flooded, whether or not the amount or intensity of rainfall increases. It's not rocket science, and not difficult to fix.

Aug 20, 2014 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterVictoria Sponge

Few things would give me greater pleasure than 'dismissing' both Sligo and Gummer (and many more besides) from their comfortable sinecures defrauding the long suffering taxpayers and energy users of this country.
I have more respect for your average pickpocket.

Aug 20, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered Commentermartin brumby

Slingo language is not scientific or relates anything scientific in a scientific manner. It is political language devised to persuade by cooing, harassment, or both.

Aug 20, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

Whilst Slingo blabbers on about more storms caused by warming, how does she explain the CET (longest temperature record) has had a downward trend for the last 21 years, so heavy rain must be cause by cooler air!
Perhaps her ignorance of basic meteorology may be her fault. She repeats the mantra that warm air holds more water – which of course is true.

However, if you imagine warm sector conditions (the area between a warm front and a cold front) it is a moist but stable air mass and produces low clouds and drizzle, not heavy rain. It is the injection of warm air mass over-riding cold mass or cold air mass under-cutting warm air when the heaviest precipitation occurs. There is a third scenario when heavy rain occurs, inside cumulus or cumulonimbus where cold air aloft mixes with warm air rising from the surface creating turbulence and increasing raindrop size.

Someone should really inform her that it needs colder air injection to create heavy rain.

Aug 20, 2014 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

I often come across comments on here from people who have been up at university many years ago where they studied the physics and geography etc required to give them the qualification to speak on the topics raised here. And this gave me pause. The other day I was talking to a family friend who, at 18 was about to travel Europe in his gap year and then go up to Birmingham to study Geography. The cause of my concern was: what will he be led to learn in general geography - and then in his specialisations (yet to be determined) which are bound to cover CC - with respect to Climate Change? Will he be brow-beaten into conforming with the 'consensus' at the risk of losing grades, or will he be allowed to develop an open mind on the subject and go where the science takes him?

I shall be keeping an eye on my young friend over the coming years to see what he it 'taught'.

Aug 20, 2014 at 11:42 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

Not for the first time, Phillip Bratby whacks the nail on the head.

Aug 20, 2014 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

The Times has picked this up:
Flooding blamed on people, not climate change.

Aug 20, 2014 at 12:16 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews


"Eventually the average person cottons on to the con and then stops believing anything they have to say"

Aesop's fable of the boy who cried wolf must be universally known in the English-speaking world, and yet is almost as universally ignored by those who wield power. One can only hope that they receive a reminder full on the chin before it's too late.

Aug 20, 2014 at 12:19 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

So Ms Slingo says that “all the evidence suggests there is a link”, having previously said that " there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change". Which is it, Julia?

Aug 20, 2014 at 12:25 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Aug 20, 2014 at 10:10 AM | Phillip Bratby

It's not even a case of implication. The statement

"The attribution of these changes to anthropogenic global warming requires..."

is absolutely explicit of their preconceptions. The MO is urgently in need of a clear out of dead wood at the top and pantomime dames.

Aug 20, 2014 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

"There is also an increasing body of evidence that shows that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is consistent with what is expected from the fundamental physics of a warming world."

Ah, but is it consistent with what is expected from the fundamental physics of a world that hasn't warmed for eighteen years?

Aug 20, 2014 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

As I have mentioned before, most of the concrete and and asphalt ever produced was produced after 1945. It has a long residence time in the environment. You can still find bits of Roman concrete all over their empire.

Aug 20, 2014 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

From 'The Times' -

"Derek Clarke, a lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, ruled out a link between last winter’s devastating floods and climate change.

However, the Met Office does not agree, and Dame Julia Slingo, its chief scientist, said “all the evidence suggests there is a link” with global warming."

Now, who to believe, the engineer or the climate scientist?

Aug 20, 2014 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim

The relevant data history here is the sea surface temperatures, as that is what controls evaporation and hence the amount of water vapour input to the atmosphere. Pretty much every record of sea surface temperature I've seen has shown only minimal change over the last 40 years, which rules out both long-term increases in rainfall and the scary water vapour feedback needed to make CO2 a 20th century influence.

There MAY be some non-CO2 anthropogenic influence on water vapour from all the tarmac, concrete, irrigation schemes, reservoirs, artifical lakes and swimming pools. A lot of water that used to soak quickly into the ground now evaporates on the surface.

Aug 20, 2014 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

When Dame Slingo, or others for that matter, make their politically correct (CAGW subsection) comments on whatever bad weather somebody somewhere has been having recently, a useful source to turn to for exposing lack of substance behind, and therefore the need for, their spinning is the series of reports Climate Change Reconsidered II.

There is a section on floods (section 7.5) in the Physical Science volume (all of which is downloadable here: It begins with these two paragraphs:

Climate model simulations generally predict a future with more frequent and more severe floods in response to CO2-induced global warming. Confirming such predictions has remained an elusive task, according to the IPCC, which claims in its most recent report “there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale” (p. 14 of the Technical Summary, Second Order Draft of AR5, dated October 5, 2012).

Contrary to the IPCC’s assessment of the situation, there exists a large body of scientific research on this topic. According to that research, as outlined in the subsections that follow, there is much evidence to conclude CO2-induced global warming is not currently increasing the frequency and/or magnitude of floods, nor will it likely impact such phenomena in the future.

There follows some 20 pages of analysis, heavily linked to the scientific literature, to back up this claim, covering North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Aug 20, 2014 at 1:40 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Hannah Devlin has changed her article. It now starts with a rather different text from what Tim quotes. This may be a result of Bish's questions on twitter.

Aug 20, 2014 at 1:59 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I have just read the new Darwall article about the recent treatment of Prof Salby and his work, and would commend it. One chunk is particularly relevant to this thread and Dame Slingo's notorious attempt to gain advantage for her institution from the Somerset floods:

The IPCC and other leading scientific bodies also appear to follow a prescientific injunction: “Seek and ye shall find.” The formulations “consistent with” and “multiple lines of evidence” recur throughout IPCC reports. The IPCC’s fifth assessment report, published in 2013, retreated slightly from previous certainty on humans’ contributing the totality of increased CO2. Now, the IPCC expressed a “very high level of confidence,” based, it said, on several lines of evidence “consistent with” this claim. Consistency with a proposition is weak-form science—the moon orbiting the Earth is consistent with pre-Copernican astronomy, after all—and a feature of the pseudosciences that Popper had seen in early-twentieth-century Vienna. In addition to seeking confirmatory evidence, AGW’s upholders often adopt the scientific equivalent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell when it comes to gaps in scientific knowledge—in particular, those gaps that, if filled in, might conceivably falsify their position.

Perceptive chap, that Rupert Darwall.

Aug 20, 2014 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I gather that the Times has altered the article to show that they were requoting Julia Slingo's remarks after the winter floods. IIRC, Slingo was contradicting her own organisation's report, so it's a case of Slingo contradicts the science, not the Met Office.

Aug 20, 2014 at 2:37 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Perceptive chap, that Rupert Darwall.

Only if you think that regarding something that is complete and utter nonsense makes you perceptive, or maybe your definition of perceptive is different to mine.

Aug 20, 2014 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnd Then There's Physics

should have been :

regarding something that is complete and utter nonsense as having merit, but that may have been obvious from the context :-)

Aug 20, 2014 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnd Then There's Physics

It looks like medieval cathedral builders anticipated the worst 21st century ACC/AGW could throw at the results of the endeavours.

Tewkesbury 2007

On the other hand they may just have been sensible about where they built their towns and cathedrals.

Aug 20, 2014 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Ah yes. You may recall an oaf by the name of John Prescott. 'Twas he who gave the go ahead to building on flood plains.

Aug 20, 2014 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Anyone but a half wit like Gummer, can see with his own eyes the obvious influences of rapid alterations fashioned in the UK since circa the mid 80s on building types.

Land use changes related to new build housing; its density, and rebuilding ie turning old houses into multiple flats, garden space limitation, gardens concreted or covered with tarmac, the spatial siting - on river flood plains [for crying out loud] but also how land use changes greatly affect subsequent stream flow run off - particularly in times of spate - FFS ask an engineer - it ain't rocket science. It should also be mentioned in passing that, the demographic - population rise over the last 15 years is, to use the buzz word of the eco-warriors at unsustainable levels which evidently contributes to a chaotic town planning melt down.
Blaming recent flooding primarily on so called climatic changes in precipitation amounts due to man made effects, ie "climate change" as Slingit has it - is a total red herring but it is also very cynical, shameful, wrong headed calculated politicking on hers and Gummers part.

This is what you get, when Chalatans with a hidden agenda clarion green-loony crusaders are running the show.

Aug 20, 2014 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Someone has prepared, or is it 'discovered', a handy template for our Julia to use during the coming winter months:

Whatever the weather brings us this winter, I’ve prepared a statement for the Met Office’s Chief Propagandist Scientist Dame Julia Slingo to use.

The recent [insert] weather is what we’d expect to see with [climate change]/[global warming]. We are loading the dice for more [insert] winters.

All the evidence suggests [insert] are linked to [climate change]/[global warming].



Aug 20, 2014 at 3:09 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Floods are cause by the stupidity of people, eh?
Most flooding I've seen is caused by too much water in the wrong place. Or in otherwords not enough, or badly maintained drainage.

As for Dame Slingo and Meteorological Office I have some questions on the merit of retaining that office.
When Britain had Military requirements for accurate weather forecasts the Met Office was an understandable asset but keep it now? Now it just an expensive government add-on of little worth.
IMO payment by results wouldn’t come too soon for this boondoggle outfit, or better yet just sell it off.

Aug 20, 2014 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason

Hi Anders, may I just check that Darwall is yet another author on whom you pass comment without having read his work?

Aug 20, 2014 at 4:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Oh dear, the Paul Matthews gambit (irony personified). I have read it now, but at the time I couldn't access it, so I asked Rupert if he was defending the work of Murry Salby (on Twitter). Guess what his response was : "yes". So, maybe I hadn't actually read his full article, but I had read the extracts on Joe Nova's exceptional blog and had asked the author himself.

So, as is clear, Rupert Darwall thinks Murry Salby's ideas about atmospheric CO2 might have merit, in which case he is defending work that is demonstrably garbage. No idea why he would choose to do that other than maybe he doesn't really have a clue (which is my guess).

Aug 20, 2014 at 4:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnd Then There's Physics

"...he is defending work that is demonstrably garbage"

I sit and wait for a demonstration of the garbage. [/s]

Aug 20, 2014 at 5:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield


I do not know what the "Paul Matthews gambit (irony personified)" means. So it seems that you have read the book and you seem dismissive because of what seems to be a muted reaction, of which you disapprove, to a view on an entirely unrelated matter. From what you say, Darwall says that Salby's ideas might have merit. This sounds very lukewarm support to me but, I suppose, in the cult of AGW everything has to be extreme. If you are noit a foaming-at-the-mouth planet-saver, then you are lower than vermin.

Aug 20, 2014 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Don't feed the troll. This post is not about Murry Salby, it's about a new paper on flooding.

Roger Pielke now has a post on the paper.
"Add Stevens et al. 2014 to the large and growing academic literature indicating that increasing disaster losses cannot at present be attributed to human-caused climate change."

Aug 20, 2014 at 6:11 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews


I do not know what the "Paul Matthews gambit (irony personified)" means.

Ahh, I assumed you'd got this whole "he comments on things without reading them fully - shock horror" idea from Paul Matthews. The irony personified was meant to imply that that seems rather ironic coming from Paul (although, to be fair, I don't know if he reads things before commenting on them, but it's not obvious that he does).

From what you say, Darwall says that Salby's ideas might have merit. This sounds very lukewarm support to me .... If you are noit a foaming-at-the-mouth planet-saver, then you are lower than vermin.

That seems a bit extreme to me. I was simply pointing out that a Journalist who appears to write about climate science seems to be supporting ideas that are easily shown to be complete and utter nonsense. I would conclude that this suggests that the Journalist either hasn't bother finding out more, or doesn't understand what they're writing about them. Doesn't make them vermin, though.

Aug 20, 2014 at 6:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnd Then There's Physics

"...a Journalist who appears to write about climate science seems to be supporting ideas that are easily shown to be complete and utter nonsense."

Show me, show me!!!

Aug 20, 2014 at 6:27 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

As Paul says, this isn't mean to be about Murry Salby, but it really is easy enough to do yourself. You could try reading some of the posts I've written about Murry Salby. William Connolley has a couple of good ones. Then there's RealClimate and Skeptical Science - both excellent resources :-) .

Aug 20, 2014 at 6:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnd Then There's Physics

ATTP ME: If it's not to do with Salby WTF is it any of your business bringing it up. You're not just a troll - you're frit! (And that's another 2 minutes of my life I'll never get back.)

PS: what would you say to me if I said I never read your posts - but I can argue the toss about them with you?

You really are worthless. (Another 2 minutes gone).

Aug 20, 2014 at 6:47 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

"Then there's RealClimate and Skeptical Science - both excellent resources "

Now, that IS irony!

Aug 20, 2014 at 6:51 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

The troll gloms on to one journalist who offers qualified cautious comment on Salby and howls like a coyote in heat. But conveniently ignores the legions of journalists who enthusiasticaly echo misanthropic climate hype press releases posing as science from Greenpeace, WWF, etc. that turn out to be utter garbage time after time.
But then trolls do have a selective appetite, even though they seem to spew the same offal posing as posts.

Aug 20, 2014 at 6:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

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