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University of Southampton’s New Study Reveals Crucial Insights on Storm Surges in the UK and Ireland

Southampton, UK: Researchers at the University of Southampton have conducted the most comprehensive spatial analysis to date on storm surges affecting the coastlines of the UK and Ireland. Their findings, published in the June edition of the journal Weather and Climate Extremes, shed light on the varying impacts and characteristics of these severe weather events across different regions.

Key Findings

The study, spanning four decades from 1980 to 2017, identifies significant regional differences in storm surge behavior. Northern Irish Sea region experiences the longest and largest storm surges. Southwest Coast of England storm surges tend to have the smallest geographical footprint and the shortest duration.

Across all investigated coastlines, the winters of 1989/90 and 2013/14 stood out for having the highest number and most severe storm surge events. Notably, the winter of 1989/90 witnessed the most extreme event on record, leading to significant flooding in Towyn and Clwyd in Wales and displacing thousands of residents.

Understanding Storm Surges

A storm surge is an abnormal rise in seawater level during a storm, measured above the normal tide height. It is caused by wind pushing water onshore and is influenced by the storm’s size, speed, and track relative to the coast. The “storm surge footprint” refers to the extent of simultaneous flooding along a coastline, which heavily influences the damage associated with coastal flooding.

“Storm surges are the most important driver of flooding in many coastal areas,” explained Professor Ivan Haigh, co-author of the study. “By understanding how different storm characteristics affect surges in various coastal locations, we can more accurately predict their impacts, improve our response strategies, and enhance our resilience to future events.”

The research, conducted in collaboration with scientists from Spain, the USA, and The Netherlands, identified 270 extreme storm surge events. These were categorized into eight distinct footprint types and linked to specific storm characteristics.

Notable Historical Surges

Winter 1989/90: The most extreme event occurred on February 26, 1990, causing widespread flooding and evacuations.

Winter 2013/14: The stormiest season recorded, with 13 severe flooding episodes, including the significant storm surge on December 5, 2013, which led to extensive property damage in East Anglia.

Lead author Dr. Paula Camus emphasized the importance of learning from past storm surges to improve future coastal flood risk management. The study’s methodology can be adapted for other coastal regions globally, offering a framework for assessing storm surge impacts in diverse environments.

The researchers noted that their study does not account for astronomical influences on tide heights, suggesting this as an area for future research.

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