Abstract

A succession of storms reaching southern England in the winter of 2013/2014 caused severe floods and £451 million insured losses. In a large ensemble of climate model simulations, we find that, as well as increasing the amount of moisture the atmosphere can hold, anthropogenic warming caused a small but significant increase in the number of January days with westerly flow, both of which increased extreme precipitation. Hydrological modelling indicates this increased extreme 30-day-average Thames river flows, and slightly increased daily peak flows, consistent with the understanding of the catchment’s sensitivity to longer-duration precipitation and changes in the role of snowmelt. Consequently, flood risk mapping shows a small increase in properties in the Thames catchment potentially at risk of riverine flooding, with a substantial range of uncertainty, demonstrating the importance of explicit modelling of impacts and relatively subtle changes in weather-related risks when quantifying present-day effects of human influence on climate.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the climateprediction.net participants whose generous donation of their spare computer processing power has enabled the large model ensembles to be created. Thanks to T. Palmer for suggesting Fig. 2, to S. Kew for assistance with the kernel density estimates, and to M. Tanguy and V. Keller for producing the CEH-GEAR data for 2013/2014 ahead of schedule. We further thank JBA Risk Management Limited for permission to use data derived from their GB Comprehensive Flood Map, based on Astrium digital terrain data. Property locations were derived from AddressPoint data, used with kind permission of Ordnance Survey. N.S., N.R.M., G.J.v.O., R.V., P.Y., A.W., P.A.S. and M.R.A. were supported by the EUCLEIA project funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 607085. N.S. received additional support from the Swiss National Science Foundation. N.R.M., F.E.L.O., S.N.S., W.J.I., A.B., J.M. and D.W. also received support from the NERC HYDRA Changing Water Cycle project. A.L.K., S.M.C. and C.H. were supported by the CEH/NERC National Capability fund. P.A.S., W.J.I. and R.G.J. were also supported by the UK Joint Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) MOHC Climate Programme (GA01101).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics, Atmospheric Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK

    • Nathalie Schaller
    • , William J. Ingram
    • , Antje Weisheimer
    •  & Myles R. Allen
  2. Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK

    • Nathalie Schaller
    • , Neil R. Massey
    • , Friederike E. L. Otto
    • , Sarah N. Sparrow
    • , Ian Ashpole
    • , Karsten Haustein
    • , Richard G. Jones
    •  & Myles R. Allen
  3. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Benson Lane, Wallingford OX10 8BB, UK

    • Alison L. Kay
    • , Susan M. Crooks
    •  & Chris Huntingford
  4. JBA Trust, South Barn, Broughton Hall, Skipton BD23 3AE, UK

    • Rob Lamb
  5. Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YQ, UK

    • Rob Lamb
  6. Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut, 3730 AE De Bilt, The Netherlands

    • Geert Jan van Oldenborgh
  7. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement & IPSL, UMR CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Robert Vautard
    •  & Pascal Yiou
  8. Oxford e-Research Centre, 7 Keble Road, Oxford OX1 3QG, UK

    • Andy Bowery
    • , Jonathan Miller
    •  & David Wallom
  9. Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter EX1 3PB, UK

    • William J. Ingram
    • , Richard G. Jones
    • , Tim Legg
    • , Simon Wilson
    •  & Peter A. Stott
  10. JBA Risk Management Ltd, South Barn, Broughton Hall, Skipton BD23 3AE, UK

    • Jessica Skeggs
  11. Department of Physics, National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK

    • Antje Weisheimer
  12. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Reading RG2 9AX, UK

    • Antje Weisheimer

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Contributions

N.S., A.L.K., R.L., G.J.v.O., R.V., P.Y., P.A.S. and M.R.A. designed the study, N.S., A.L.K., R.L., N.R.M., A.B., J.M., J.S. set up and performed model experiments, N.S., A.L.K., R.L., N.R.M., G.J.v.O., F.E.L.O., S.N.S., R.V., P.Y., K.H., C.H., T.L. and J.S. provided analyses and all authors wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Nathalie Schaller or Neil R. Massey.

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