A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Storm over the Helford

As 2016 gets underway, many communities in the north of England and Scotland are beginning the long clear up after repeated bouts of flooding, with the possibility of more to come. The Lizard, like many places in the southwest, seems to have escaped the worst of the flooding so far, though Storm Frank ushered in the New Year in Cornwall with high winds and heavy rain. Stormy weather is a feature of our winters, but when one storm after another makes landfall on our shores – as in 2013-14 and now in 2015-16 – we start to wonder aloud what the causes are.

This year, lots of people are talking about El Niño – an episode of warming thousands of miles away in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean that raises sea temperatures above average when cooling trade winds drop. This happens regularly, about every two to seven years, though in this particular episode the temperature of the ocean has risen quickly and to higher levels than usual. This all still seems a million miles from a stormy day on the Lizard, but this warming event in the Pacific has a knock on effect on the jet stream, a band of fast-moving air that acts a bit like a conveyor belt bringing storm systems across the Atlantic. Since the Pacific started warming up last summer, it has been widely predicted that the UK would experience milder and wetter than average conditions this winter. Dealing with the effects of such extreme weather is not just about battening down the hatches as the storms roll in across the Lizard. 

Severe weather causes coastal erosion, damage to the cliff path, localised flooding, and wind damage, the effects of which can be minimised with careful year-round management by the members of the Linking the Lizard partnership. For example, planting trees can slow the movement of water through the Lizard’s river catchments, such as the Helford and the Cober, reducing flooding downstream when there is torrential rain. With El Niño stronger than ever, understanding how atmospheric and oceanic systems thousands of miles away impact the weather on the Lizard is a complex job but one which is vital to the future care of the landscape we love.

Link: Jet stream example 

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Published: Jan 2016
Author:  Catherine Leyshon