December 2015 will go down in meteorological history as one of the wettest - and warmest - on record in the UK, and will be remembered for devastating floods in northern England and Scotland which caused extensive flooding, loss of electrical power, plus major damage and disruption to the road and rail networks.
Data from the Met Office's UK digitised records date back to 1910. According to these it has been the wettest December on record for Scotland (333.1 mm), and for Wales (321 mm), with Northern Ireland currently ranked fourth wettest with 208.1 mm. North west England has also seen record breaking rainfall, although central and southern England were much closer to average.
As the new year rolled in the Environment Agency continued to warn that wet weather was still expected across much of England. On 5 January communities were told to remain alert as river levels remained high across many parts of the country with the potential for further flooding in parts of northeast England, Devon, Cornwall, as well as parts of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire around the River Severn. Prime Minister David Cameron also announced government funding to rebuild and improve flood defences
"I have seen at first-hand the devastation caused by flooding. And that's why this work to repair and improve flood defences is so vital," he said. "We are already spending £280M over the next six years to protect thousands of houses from flooding in Yorkshire as part of our £2.3B investment to protect 300,000 houses across the country. But now more than £40M will be spent to fix those defences overwhelmed by the record rainfall we've seen in recent weeks and to make them more resilient to further bad weather."
£10M of the new funding package will be reserved to improve the Foss Barrier which protects the city of York but was overwhelmed at the height of the stormy weather. The other £30M will be spent repairing defences on the Wharfe, Calder, Aire, Ouse and Derwent rivers.
Transport Minister Robert Goodwill has also been appointed by the Prime Minister as Flooding Envoy to oversee flooding response in Yorkshire. He has been tasked with:
- Understanding the impact of flooding in affected areas, especially weaknesses exposed.
- Tracking progress towards recovery and reporting directly to the Prime Minister.
- Assessing the effectiveness of multi-agency joint working in affected areas (for both response and recovery).
- Identifying lessons learned.
There has been much speculation as to the cause of the UK's recent stormy weather. Debates have questioned whether it was the El Nino weather phenomenon which was very strong in 2015 - or a sign of a changing climate.
"As for whether climate change has played a role, we know that the overall warming of the oceans increases the moisture content of the atmosphere by around 6% for every 1°C warming," says Met Office Chief Scientist, Professor Dame Julia Slingo. "This extra moisture provides additional energy to the developing weather system, enabling even more moisture to be drawn in to the system. This means that the overall enhancement of rainfall, when the moisture-laden air impinges on the mountains of Wales, northern England and Scotland, may be even more significant.
"So from basic physical understanding of weather systems it is entirely plausible that climate change has exacerbated what has been a period of very wet and stormy weather arising from natural variability."
For the UK as a whole 2015 is currently the second wettest on record. The wettest year on Met Office records was 2000 when 1337mm of rainfall was recorded. Most of the top ten wettest years have occurred since 1998.
Furthermore the UK mean temperature for December 2015 was also a record breaking 4.1°C above the long-term average - closer to those normally experienced during April or May.