By Sam Portillo | News Editor
Heavy rainfall brought about by Storm Christoph last month reignited questions over the capability of Welsh Government and local authorities to defend against destructive flooding, with the Met Office issuing flood warnings in 58 areas.
A period of sustained heavy rain saw the River Dee near Wrexham reach record levels, inciting a severe flood warning and evacuation of residents from their homes. In South Wales – Pentre in Rhondda Cynon Taf – heavy wind and rain caused a ‘minor’ landslip. In the aftermath of the rain, a Natural Resources Wales official warned residents in affected areas to “remain vigilant” as rivers continue to be at abnormal levels.
Multiple travel routes were rendered unusable as rain water breached river banks and covered rail tracks and roads. Experienced meteorologist Marco Petagna reported that Treherbert in the South Wales Valleys received 115mm of rain in just over 24 hours, while the typical average for the whole month of February is 98mm. “They’ve had more than a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours,” he said.
Natural Resources Wales said that the River Usk peaked at 3.9 metres – the equivalent of two average adult men standing on top of one another.
There are communities in Wales still reeling from the devastation of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis at the front end of last year when areas in the Brecon Beacons and South Wales Valleys received 160mm rainfall in one day. Data from insurance firms valued the flood damage at £81 million, with homes and businesses alike both infiltrated by the water.
A review from October found that Natural Resource Wales had been “stretched”, impairing their ability to handle “unforeseen events on the ground”. In relation to Storms Ciara and Dennis last winter, the report found that NRW issued six flood warnings later than they should have, and misjudged the timing of a further twelve.
“Quite clearly, the weather instances were exceptional,” the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council said. “Storm Dennis was classed as a 1 in 290 year weather event.”
But meteorologists and other scientists widely recognise that the UK is shifting towards a warmer and wetter climate that lends itself more readily to ‘freak’ weather.
In the Senedd, opposition parties continue to push the Welsh Government to improve NRW’s ability to respond to such challenges. Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said that the events raised “serious questions” about the administration’s ability to handle crisis situations, while Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford accused his opponent of making “political capital out of misery”.
NRW Chief Executive Clare Pillman however argues that the fallout from such exceptional weather would have been “unavoidable” even with enhanced funding and resources. In a similar vein of thought, the Welsh Government aims to bolster against future flooding crises by preparing communities ‘on the ground’, reinforcing homes and giving residents in vulnerable areas tools that will hopefully allow them to warn others against intruding water and evacuate early.