The intensely cyclonic conditions of late-December continued into January, resulting in an exceptionally wet and windy (but notably mild) start to 2014. A succession of vigorous low pressure systems brought gale force winds, exceptionally strong swells (causing extensive coastal damage and tidal flooding) and persistent frontal rainfall. With heavy rain falling on already saturated ground, flood alerts were widespread and sustained through January. Average flows during the month were exceptional in many rivers, but peak river flows were generally not exceptional; rather, January was notable for the persistence and spatial extent of floodplain inundation, particularly from large, slowly responding rivers and in low-lying areas such as the Somerset Levels.Average river flows in the UK during January 2014.

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 monthly summary is a look back at hydrological events occurring in 2014. For the latest information of flood warnings please visit the Environment Agency website.

Terry Marsh, Leader of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “The tempestuous weather affecting the UK has continued through the first two weeks of February 2014. It appears likely that winter rainfall totals across much of Southern Britain will be the highest on record (in the NCIC series from 1910). As a result river flows have continued to increase in parts of the country, most notably in the Thames and the Severn basins. In recent days on the Thames river flows are approaching or have exceeded maxima recorded in the last major event (November 1974). The high river flows have led to extensive floodplain inundations aggravated by groundwater flooding in many vulnerable parts of the catchment.”

Throughout January, comparatively few properties were flooded (in part due to the effectiveness of flood alleviation measures) but the prolonged nature of the inundation caused widespread transport disruption, damage to agricultural land and isolation of some communities.

With the severe storms continuing into early February, flooding continued and intensified in some major river basins (e.g. the Thames and the Severn). Groundwater flooding became increasingly prevalent through January and into early-February, as aquifers responded to the rainfall accumulated since mid-December.

There is a very high risk of further fluvial and groundwater flooding over the coming months – in vulnerable areas, the risk of groundwater flooding will remain high throughout the spring (as occurred following the exceptionally wet autumn/winter of 2000/2001).

With record groundwater levels in the southern Chalk and the highest January reservoir stocks for England & Wales in a record from 1988, the water resource outlook for 2014 is exceptionally healthy.

A PDF of the full 12-page January 2014 summary can be downloaded here. [PDF 1.79MB]

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.

Additional information

Read the full January 2014 Hydrological Summary for the UK. [PDF, 1.79MB]

Hydrological summary archive - dating back to December 1988 

Details of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme 

Latest Hydrological Outlook for the UK 

National River Flow Archive 

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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