Artful Codger - Sandy’s lessons apply here
THE SCALE of the devastation wreaked across vast areas of the United States by Hurricane Sandy was truly horrific and almost too dreadful to contemplate.
In particular, the storm surge along the coastal region near New York pulverised homes if they were matchwood, and must have brought back chilling memories to older residents of West Norfolk who lived through the East Coast floods back in 1953.
In just a few months time, in January, it will be the 60th anniversary of what was for many the greatest tragedy in their lives, and the uncomfortable thought that the combination of wind and tide that led to flooding in Lynn and Hunstanton, as well as the coastal villages in between, is always a lurking possibility.
Only 25 years after the ’53 floods there was a further tidal surge down the North Sea in 1978, and although not on the scale of the previous inundation, it still provided a stiff test for flood defences all along the coast, even though they had been beefed up in the intervening years.
So a glance at the history books will tell you that the next North Sea Surge is not so much a matter of if, but more a case of when, therefore the important question to ask is: Will the flood defences for our area be up to the task?
Flood defences are constructed using the knowledge gained from previous inundations and aiming to provide defences that will work provided the tidal surge comes within predicted ranges. Clearly, it would be unfeasible to build ridiculously high flood defences at enormous cost, but the big problem here is that nature is notoriously unpredictable, and what happened in the past offers no cast-iron guarantees for the future.
Now if you study the details of the scale of Hurricane Sandy, it was worse than anything experienced in the New York area over the several centuries that there have been records of such events, with the tidal surge topping anything that had ever been experienced in the New England area before.
And this is where it chimes with weather events that have been happening all around the world in the last two or three years.
There have been freakish heatwaves in Russia, record floods over wide areas of Australia, massive typhoons and tsunamis have battered the Far East, and this year the worst drought struck the mid-west region of America since the dust bowl conditions of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
No-one could seriously argue that the world’s weather is not going through a period of violent extremes, and while we do not know the causes, or how long it will go on – or indeed if it is likely to get much worse – we must cope with the results as best we can.
Which brings me back to our quiet corner of the world in West Norfolk, and begs the question: Could our flood defences cope with a North Sea tidal surge that might – given what is happening around the world – be even worse than the 1953 surge?
With all the sanding up taking place in the River Ouse in the last year or so, would our river and the relief channel be able to cope with a mighty surge in some future January?
Only time will tell.
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Weather for King's Lynn
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east