Can rain really come from the ‘wrong direction’? Scientists set the record straight after bumbling Environment Secretary Therese Coffey uses bizarre excuse for Storm Babet
- READ MORE: Therese Coffey claims Britain was less prepared for Storm Babet deluge because downpours came from the East and not the West
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey raised more than a few eyebrows yesterday when she appeared to blame Storm Babet’s flooding on rain coming from the wrong direction.
During a quizzing by MPs, the Cabinet minister suggested that Britain was less prepared for recent downpours because they came from the East and not the West.
She explained that forecasters are ‘very good’ at predicting showers which sweep in from the Atlantic, but added: ‘This was rain coming from the other way and we don’t have quite as much experience on that.
‘Therefore our accuracy of predicting where such heavy rain would fall was not to the same degree as if it had been,’ Ms Coffey told the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
So, can rain really come from the ‘wrong direction’? MailOnline spoke to a number of scientists who dispute this explanation.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey raised more than a few eyebrows yesterday when she appeared to blame Storm Babet’s flooding on rain coming from the wrong direction
READ MORE: Environment Secretary Therese Coffey claims Britain was less prepared for Storm Babet deluge because downpours came from the East and not the West
During a quizzing by MPs, the Cabinet minister suggested that Britain was less prepared for recent downpours because they came from the East and not the West
Richard Allan, a professor in climate science at the University of Reading, said weather forecasting models ‘don’t care what direction the rain is coming from’.
He told MailOnline: ‘It is uncommon for the drier eastern side of the UK to experience such an intense and prolonged deluge, but our weather forecasts are packed full of the most complete observations and physics, which don’t care what direction the rain is coming from and so were able to make valuable and high quality predictions.’
Professor Allan explained that global warming was partly to blame for the deluge being so bad.
‘[This] is increasing the amount of moisture in the air, which is making heavy rainfall events even more intense,’ he said.
Professor Liz Bentley, CEO of the Royal Meteorological Society, said that Britain’s weather was becoming ‘more volatile, more intense than three or four decades ago’.
She added: ‘We’ve also seen increases in rainfall, particularly intense rainfall that can lead to flash floods, which is another effect of climate change in the UK.’
Edward Hanna, a professor in climate science at the University of Lincoln, said the ‘bottom line is we can expect (and are already experiencing) more extreme high rainfall events anywhere in the country under climate change, and better preparation is needed’.
He told MailOnline: ‘Last week’s storm was not unprecedented.
‘We’ve previously seen other storms or low-pressure systems with rain encroaching parts of eastern and central England from the east or south-east, e.g. the Sheffield and Hull extreme rains and catastrophic flood impacts on June 2007 being particularly memorable.
‘Normally the east sides of England and Scotland are relatively sheltered from prevailing rain-bearing weather systems that come in from the Atlantic, but this doesn’t always apply if the weather systems stall or take a different trajectory.’
Ms Coffey’s explanation also provoked an angry response from the Lib Dems, who said she should ‘get a grip’ and ‘stop blaming everyone else for her failings’.
It is true, however, that western parts of the UK tend to experience more rainfall than the East, as is the case with the North rather than the South.
Richard Washington, a professor in climate science at the University of Oxford, was more sympathetic to the Cabinet minister’s reasoning.
‘I can see what the Environment Secretary was saying,’ he told MailOnline.
A total of 13 areas broke their daily rainfall records for October last week, while reports of floods to the Environment Agency reached the highest level since 2015/16
More than 300 flood warnings were issued and hundreds of people have been left homeless, with about 1,250 properties in England flooded
‘It is not that the storm wasn’t forecast — more that the planning and positioning of assets to deal with extreme weather is generally set up for the more usual conditions we experience. And rightly so.
‘Our rainy and windy weather does normally come from the west, usually bound up in low pressure systems which move from west to east.
‘Babet also travelled from west to east but had a centre right over England and that changed the winds and weather patterns.’
Among the areas where heavy downpours are common are northwest England – especially the Lake District in Cumbria and western facing slopes of the Pennines – and western and mid-Wales — particularly the mountainous Snowdonia region in the north.
Parts of Northern Ireland and southwest England – mainly the higher elevation areas of Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor – also get a lot of rain.
Ms Coffey, who was previously deputy prime minister, told MPs a ‘rapid review’ would be carried out to assess the handling of Storm Babet’s impact
The graphic above shows how the jet stream works and where it is located between seasons
Explaining why this is the case, the Met Office said ‘the prevailing warm moist westerly winds mean the west of the UK is more likely to receive rainfall from Atlantic weather systems.
‘These usually move from west to east across the UK and as they do so the amount of rainfall they deposit reduces.
‘This is because the mountains of the northern and western UK force the prevailing westerly winds to rise, which cools the air and consequently enhances the formation of cloud and rain in these locations.’
The jet stream – a fast moving strip of air high up in the atmosphere – is also responsible for steering weather systems towards the UK from the Atlantic.
It has a warm side to the south and a cold side to the north and can have a major impact on what kind of weather we experience.
At least seven people are now thought to have died amid the carnage brought by Storm Babet.
A total of 13 areas broke their daily rainfall records for October last week, while reports of floods to the Environment Agency reached the highest level since 2015/16.
More than 300 flood warnings were issued and hundreds of people have been left homeless, with about 1,250 properties in England flooded.
Ms Coffey, who was previously deputy prime minister, told MPs a ‘rapid review’ would be carried out to assess the handling of Storm Babet’s impact.
She suggested it had been harder to predict where resources were needed due to direction from which the devastating rain arrived.
Responding to her comments, the Liberal Democrats’ environment spokesperson Tim Farron, said: ‘This is a new low for an environment secretary that cannot help but say or do the wrong thing.
‘Therese Coffey blaming the wind for the government’s failure to protect homes from flooding would almost be comical if so many had not suffered so deeply at the hands of her incompetence.’
Why IS the British weather so changeable? UK is ‘unique’ because FIVE air masses battle for supremacy above it
Warm and sunny one minute, rain the next, sometimes the British weather can be so wildly changeable it’s difficult to keep up.
Even this past month, after a largely benign summer, it offered yet another surprise by bringing a September heatwave that was abruptly halted by a thunderstorm and more heavy downpours.
Which weather will we get? There are five main air masses that battle it out above Britain. They include the Polar Maritime, Arctic Maritime, Polar Continental, Tropical Continental and Tropical Maritime. A sixth air mass, known as the returning Polar Maritime, also affects the UK
But just why is it so variable and prone to change from day to day? Or even, much to the frustration of those who have forgotten a coat, hour by hour?
And has climate change affected it?
MailOnline spoke to several meteorologists about what makes the UK’s weather so ‘unique’, as one put it, and whether any other country in the world compares.
Read more here.
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