Abstract

During the winter of 2013/14, much of the UK experienced repeated intense rainfall events and flooding. This had a considerable impact on property and transport infrastructure. A key question is whether the burning of fossil fuels is changing the frequency of extremes, and if so to what extent. We assess the scale of the winter flooding before reviewing a broad range of Earth system drivers affecting UK rainfall. Some drivers can be potentially disregarded for these specific storms whereas others are likely to have increased their risk of occurrence. We discuss the requirements of hydrological models to transform rainfall into river flows and flooding. To determine any general changing flood risk, we argue that accurate modelling needs to capture evolving understanding of UK rainfall interactions with a broad set of factors. This includes changes to multiscale atmospheric, oceanic, solar and sea-ice features, and land-use and demographics. Ensembles of such model simulations may be needed to build probability distributions of extremes for both pre-industrial and contemporary concentration levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

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Acknowledgements

C.H., T.M., J.H., A.L.K., C.P., N.S.R., S.P., H.C.W., V.A.B., M.B. and A.J. at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology were supported by the NERC National Capability fund. A.A.S., E.J.K., J.A.L., M.R., P.A.S., T.L. and J.S. at the Met Office were supported by the Joint UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme (GA01101). River-flow data were obtained from the UK National River Flow Archive. J.A.S. was funded by NERC grant NE/J019585/1. C.H. was funded by the NERC HYDRA project. River-flow and groundwater-level data are provided by the Environment Agency (EA), Natural Resources Wales—Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and, for Northern Ireland, the Rivers Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

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Affiliations

  1. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8BB, UK

    • Chris Huntingford
    • , Terry Marsh
    • , Jamie Hannaford
    • , Alison L. Kay
    • , Christel Prudhomme
    • , Nick S. Reynard
    • , Simon Parry
    • , Helen C. Ward
    • , Vicky A. Bell
    • , Mark Bailey
    •  & Alan Jenkins
  2. Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK

    • Adam A. Scaife
    • , Elizabeth J. Kendon
    • , Jason A. Lowe
    • , Malcolm Roberts
    • , Peter A. Stott
    • , Tim Legg
    •  & Julia Slingo
  3. Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading RG6 6BB, UK

    • Mike Lockwood
  4. College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Harrison Building, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, North Park Road, Exeter EX4 4QF, UK

    • James A. Screen
  5. Oxford University Centre for the Environment, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK

    • Friederike E. L. Otto
    • , Neil Massey
    • , Nathalie Schaller
    •  & Myles R. Allen
  6. Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK

    • Myles R. Allen

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Contributions

C.H. conceived and designed the paper. T.M., J.H. and S.P. provided hydrological data and their interpretation. T.L. provided rainfall data. Latest research understanding was provided by A.A.S., E.J.K., J.S. and M.R. on high-resolution atmospheric modelling and processes; by A.L.K., C.P., V.A.B. and N.S.R. on flood modelling and processes; by M.L. and A.A.S. on solar–climate interactions; by J.A.L. on issues of sea-level rise and coastal flooding; by J.A.S. on sea-ice–climate interactions; by P.A.S. on rainfall trend detection and attribution; and by F.E.L.O., N.M. and M.R.A. on the fractional attributable risk statistic and large ensemble modelling. C.H., H.C.W., M.B., N.S. and A.J. discussed the overall aims of the paper. All authors contributed to the writing of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chris Huntingford.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2314

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