Heavy storms and prolonged rainfall on the rise in UK and Ireland, study shows

Stay informed with free updates

Heavy winter storms across the UK and Ireland, which caused devastating floods and left farmers nursing revenue losses of almost £1bn, were more intense due to human-caused climate change, a study has shown.

Global warming made stormy rainfall between October and March 20 per cent heavier, found research by the World Weather Attribution group of leading international academics and scientists, conducted alongside the national weather organisations of the UK, Ireland and Netherlands.

Last winter was the second wettest on record in the UK, according to the scientists, and the third wettest in Ireland. Climate change had contributed to a 15 per cent rise in total rainfall.

The “seemingly never-ending rainfall” experienced over the autumn and winter is projected to become commonplace, said Mark McCarthy, science manager of climate attribution at the Met Office, in a statement.

“In the future we can expect further increases in frequency of wet autumns and winters. That’s why it is so important for us to adapt to our changing climate and become more resilient to increases in rainfall,” he added.

Analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a non-profit climate advocacy group, found that arable farmers could lose almost £1bn in revenue because of the wet months of 2023-2024.

Martin Lines, chief executive of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “The extremely wet winter we’ve had has impacted our ability to plant and look after our crops.”

Climate change is leading to higher temperatures and more extreme weather patterns around the world. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour, leading to heavier rainfall and extreme floods. 

“To put it bluntly, climate change is already making life shittier,” said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

“Wetter winters are flooding farms, cancelling football matches and overflowing sewage systems. Groceries are becoming more expensive,” she added.

Wet periods — such as the 2023-24 October-March season — occurred at most once every 80 years during the pre-industrial period, before emissions from human activity began to raise global temperatures, the research said.

But these events have become at least four times more likely, expected to occur about once every 20 years, as the world continues to warm.

The scientists looked at 14 big storms that occurred in Ireland and the UK, including storms Babet, Ciarán, Henk and Isha, from October to March, traditionally the peak of the storm season.

At least 20 people died in storms in the UK over the period, the researchers said, which also triggered severe flooding of homes and businesses, transport disruption and power outages.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.