The United Kingdom has more than 11,000 miles (17,700 km) of coastline. The surrounding seas and oceans can be useful for defence but they can also pose a threat. In January 1953 a huge storm surge flooded sleeping families in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. Over 2,550 people lost their lives, 50,000 properties were damaged and tens of thousands of animals died. In England 307 people died, and 19 in Scotland. This North Sea storm surge made people realise that there needed to be a better coastal defence system. One of the defences that was built was the Thames Flood Barrier which came into operation in 1984.
What is a storm surge and how is it caused? An extreme storm surge happens with very low atmospheric pressure which sucks up the sea surface, and then the strong wind blows it towards the coast where the water piles up. Tides can be between 3 and 5 metres higher than normal.
So we jump to December 2013 and a repeat of the huge storm surge. Did the warning system and defence systems hold up? England’s east coast experienced the worst tidal surge in 60 years. But this time people had warning and more than 50,000 people left their homes and moved to higher ground. However there were problems: in North Wales residents had to be rescued by lifeboat crews when sea defences were not good enough. There was also some loss of life. A man was killed by a falling tree in Nottinghamshire and a lorry driver died in Scotland when his truck was blown over. But although properties were flooded in a number of towns, often caused by overflowing rivers, in most cases the sea defences built since the 1950’s held firm. There was also a lot of traffic disruption, rail services were halted by falling trees, high sided vehicles were prevented from crossing some bridges and exposed areas, and planes were diverted when landing became dangerous because of the winds.