Like much of the previous two months, February was exceptionally wet, thus bringing to a close the wettest winter in the England & Wales rainfall series (from 1766). Inland, fluvial flooding continued to intensify in the first fortnight, with widespread flood warnings (including severe flood warnings) and extensive floodplain inundation.
On the Somerset Levels and the lower reaches of the Thames the flooding had very severe impacts but, overall, flood impacts were localised given the spatial extent and duration of the exceptional runoff. In part this reflects the efficacy of flood alleviation measures, but also the fact that peak river flows, whilst high for February, were generally unremarkable (except on the lower Thames and in some groundwater‑dominated catchments). Nevertheless, the duration of floodplain inundation has been exceptional and, accordingly, total runoff for the winter 2013/14 period was unprecedented.
The assessment is contained in the latest monthly hydrological summary for the UK, the most authoritative analysis of water resources status in the country. The monthly summaries are produced by the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme, operated by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in conjunction with the British Geological Survey.
The December 2013 to February 2014 period was the stormiest winter the UK has experienced for at least 20 years, with the first half of February seeing a continuation of the relentless sequence of deep depressions – their impacts exacerbated by the lack of any respite, with the storms being separated by a few days at most. Severe gales brought widespread damage and disruption to transport and energy networks, and the associated large waves caused severe flooding and accelerated erosion in coastal districts.
During February groundwater levels continued to rise across most aquifers, and were exceptionally high across much of the southern Chalk and in western outcrops of the Permo-Triassic sandstones. Widespread groundwater flooding was reported in the Chalk (in some localities, the most severe since the winter of 2000/01) and, in vulnerable areas, is likely to persist through the spring.
The Summary team reports, “With plentiful aquifer storage and full reservoirs, the water resources outlook for the spring and summer is very favourable.”
- The month of February concluded the wettest winter on record for much of the UK: it was the wettest winter in the NCIC record (from 1910) for the UK as a whole by a considerable margin; in Southern region the winter rainfall exceeded the previous maximum (1914/15) by 100mm (>20%).
- However, some areas have been drier, including parts of eastern England and the far north of Scotland. The winter has also been notably mild; significant snowfalls were restricted to the Highlands of Scotland, where snow cover has been extensive at high elevations.
- Flows in the lower reaches of the Thames were the highest since 1974
- Flooding also occurred on the lower Severn, where flows exceeded those reached in 2007.
- February maximum peak flows were registered in 14 index rivers across southern and central England and new period-of-record maxima (for any month) were established in some slowly responding groundwater‑fed catchments in southern England, including the Lambourn, Itchen and Coln.
- New maximum February runoff totals were widespread, and accumulated runoff totals for the winter as a whole were exceptional across most of the UK (with the exception of northern Scotland and parts of eastern England), eclipsing previous maxima in a substantial majority of index catchments.
- The accumulated winter outflows from Great Britain were the highest on record (from 1961) by a considerable margin, and it was the highest winter runoff total for the Thames and the Severn in lengthy flow records (from 1883 and 1921, respectively).
- Exceptional February groundwater levels were recorded over most of the southern Chalk, with monthly maximum levels recorded in the North Downs (Little Bucket Farm and Well House Inn) and at Compton House and Rockley.
- In the northern and eastern Chalk (East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire) levels rose but remain at or below average, except at Wetwang.
- In the Permo-Triassic sandstones levels increased and were above normal in the Midlands and north Wales and exceptionally high elsewhere, with record monthly levels recorded for the second consecutive month at Newbridge, Skirwith and Bussels.
- In the Magnesian Limestone, water levels rose and approached the maximum monthly level at Swan House.
- In the Jurassic limestone aquifers, levels remained above average and continued to increase at New Red Lion (Lincolnshire Limestone); in the Cotswolds they decreased slightly from exceptional to notably high levels.
- In the rapidly responding Carboniferous Limestone, levels were above average and rose at Alstonfield (Peak District) but fell in south Wales (by 9m at Pant y Lladron).
The monthly summary is a look back at hydrological events occurring in February 2014. For the latest information on flood warnings please visit the Environment Agency website.
The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology jointly operates the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (for the UK) in conjunction with the British Geological Survey. NHMP scientists produce the UK Monthly Hydrological Summary which assesses rainfall, river flows, groundwater and reservoir levels. They also operate the UK’s National River Flow archive. The NHMP also has a remit to analyse major flood and drought events in the UK and analyse long term trends in UK hydrological data. The UK Monthly Hydrological Summary is published on, or before, the tenth working day, of the following month. A Hydrological Outlook for the UK is also available.
Read the full February 2014 Hydrological Summary for the UK. [PDF, 1.81MB]
Details of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme
Media enquiries related to the Hydrological Summaries should be directed to the CEH Press Office. Our scientists can provide explanation and analysis of historic hydrological patterns, possible future scenarios under climate change and scientific understanding of the current situation. We are not able to comment on immediate operational issues.
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Key for river flows graphic: