England is experiencing its worst drought in decades and yet this month may become one of the wettest Aprils on record for the United Kingdom. It’s the latest twist of weather irony that has many people in Britain scratching their heads.
In recent days torrential rain and gusty winds have battered the British Isles, prompting the UK Environment Agency to issue 11 flood warnings across southwest England – the same region currently in a drought (see map).
The BBC reports that over 2” of rain fell in parts of England and Scotland in less than 24 hours on Wednesday. Since early this week, an area of Atlantic low pressure has been moving across southern England, bringing heavy rain and localized thunderstorms. In some places partial sunshine has provided enough instability to trigger a few weak tornadoes.
The wet, unsettled weather comes on the heels of an unusually warm and sunny March. The Met Office reports that March 2012 was the 5th driest and 3rd warmest March on record in the UK. Depending on additional rainfall over the next few days, this month could become the UK’s wettest April on record – eclipsing the record 4.7 inches that fell in April 2000. The Telegraph reports that up to another 3” is expected over the coming week with a cool, rainy pattern that could last through much of May.
Link: Sunny March, wet April – how the jet stream is (partly) to blame (UK Met Office)
In light of the recent downpours, water usage restrictions in southern England have become the butt of jokes. “The wettest drought in history,” one person commented in a recent post on the Daily Mail. In another story published by the Guardian, one commenter offered a more sobering perspective:
“Flood warnings alongside hosepipe bans - does anyone seriously doubt that climate and ecology are now out of balance?”
Confusion over flood warnings and hosepipe bans has prompted weather forecasters and water companies to educate the public on the drought status and need for more long-term rain. An Environment Agency spokesperson reported to the Met Office that several months of light rainfall are needed to replenish soil moisture:
The recent rain is good for farmers and gardeners… [b]ut with dry soils most of the rain will be soaked up – or, worse still, run off quickly if the surface is compacted, causing flash floods.
The answer then is that any rain will indeed benefit Britain’s drought-affected regions. Flooding downpours, however, are not the quick and easy cure for long-term precipitation deficits.