LONDON — Let’s stipulate one thing from the start: Britain has never been known for its salubrious weather.
Great odes have been written to the fog, the clouds, the constant drizzle. From Shakespeare to Sherlock, the patter of rain has been an ever-present backdrop. Complaining about the damp is a cherished national pastime.
But rarely has it been this wet.
To close out 2013, many parts of Britain experienced their wettest December in decades. The turning of the new year brought the rainiest January in a century. (Maybe even longer. The records don’t go back that far.)
With some areas under water since Christmas, the usual tut-
tutting about the gray has given way to desperate pleas for relief from the endless wave of storms that has washed over this perpetually waterlogged isle.
Forget “Keep calm and carry on.” This is the winter when the stiff upper lip has gone all wrinkly.
The Sun — the newspaper, not the glowing orb that has scarcely been seen in months — late last week ran a front-page cry to the heavens, invoking Saint Medard, the patron saint of clear skies.
“Dear Lord, we’ve had enough,” read the appeal. “We ask you please that the rain may stop soon.”
The paper even enlisted a pair of its famous, and infamous, Page 3 Girls to join in the prayers.
But the petition apparently fell on deaf ears above: The forecast says the storms will continue.
A soggy inconvenience in some places, including London, the record rainfall has been devastating in others, as roads, farmland and houses remain submerged across vast swaths of rural England.
Troops have been deployed for flood relief. The prime minister has been raked through the muck in Parliament for his policies on river dredging. Engineers from the Netherlands — a nation that knows a thing or two about the life aquatic — have been called in for emergency consultations.
But nothing can compete with the ceaseless storms, which on Wednesday knocked out power for thousands and swept part of a coastal railway line out to sea.
Julian Temperley, a 65-year-old cider brandy maker from Somerset, said he has 50 acres of land lying under six feet of water.
“We know about water. We enjoy water. We like floods, up to a point,” said Temperley, whose low-lying and heavily agricultural corner of southwestern England has been among the nation’s worst-affected areas. “But we don’t expect water to come into your house. That is different.”
In Temperley’s 89-year-old father’s house, that’s exactly what the water has done. As of this past weekend, it was halfway up his rubber boots — and rising. Outside, the scene was pure wasteland — with the unusually warm winter temperatures contributing to the fetid atmosphere.
“There is quite a smell at the moment. Things are rotting under the water, and there are a lot of dead animals floating around,” said Temperley, who, like many in the area, criticizes the government for failing to keep up river dredging that could help to lessen the storms’ impact. “Last year was the worst flooding since 1926, and this year is at least twice as bad, if not three times as bad.”
Jim Winkworth, a 47-year-old father of three who owns a pub in Somerset, said he is losing about 2,500 pounds a week — or about $4,000 — because the area’s roads are closed.
“I’ve not had a conversation with anybody else about anything other than the flooding and water since Christmas,” he said. “I got a box on the bar now so that if anyone mentions the word ‘flood,’ they got to put a pound in for charity.”
Prince Charles, touring the region Tuesday, said it was “a tragedy” that “nothing happened for so long” — an apparent reference to a government response that has been widely criticized. A day later, Prime Minister David Cameron promised $160 million in additional flood relief. The government pledged $50 million more on Thursday.
For those enduring winter in the eastern United States, wondering whether British misery, too, can be pinned on the polar vortex, the answer is: to a point.
The contrast between the frigid temperatures of North America and the warmer air farther south has intensified the jet stream over the North Atlantic and created a conveyor belt for storms that runs through Britain. But even as milder temperatures have crept back on the East Coast, there’s no letup in sight to the rain and wind here.
“The unsettled conditions are going to continue well into the middle of February,” said Alex Burkill, meteorologist with the Met Office, Britain’s national weather service.
The oppressive gloom has led to some unusual coping methods. A pair of teens ran away from their elite boarding school in northern England and, parents’ credit cards in hand, hopped a flight to the Dominican Republic. (Authorities later caught up with them at a five-star, beachside hotel where the only water in sight was seductively warm and aquamarine.)
But mostly, Brits have just endured — and wondered when it’s all going to stop.
Sue Evans, vicar of St. Medard Church and author of the Sun’s front-page plea, said she has grown used to the daily trek to the stables to wash the mud from her horses’ hooves so they don’t rot. But she could do without it.
“Everybody is getting tired of this and just hoping that things get back to normal,” said Evans. “We’ll ask God, as we do for all things.”
Karla Adam contributed to this report.