Post Flood

Great Estuary

Yesterday morning, 5:40 am, I was woken by the shrill ring of my phone. Grave family news? No.

“This is the Environment Agency . . .” There followed a Red Alert Flood Warning. At 5:40 am my head isn’t fully functioning, and the message is deliberately worded to catch the attention and force awareness.

Next stop, their website. What, precisely, was the situation? Oh, it wasn’t just a particularly high tide. It was a North Sea Surge.

North Sea Surges are not a feature of rising sea levels due to recent climatic changes. They have been occurring at least since 1099.

“Also this year, on the Feast of St Martin [November 11] the tide rose so strongly and did so much damage as no-one remembered it ever did before . . .”
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 

Studies done by the School of Environmental Studies at University of East Anglia have determined that these Surges occur on average at fifty year intervals. The Surge of 2007 was bang on schedule, the previous – said to be the worst on record – being in February 1953. But 2007, that was only six years ago. This had come too soon!

The North Sea requires a certain set of conditions before it will ‘Surge’.

  1. Low pressure tracking down from Scotland with accompanying high winds – gale force was predicted.
  2. A spring tide – these being the highest tides.
  3. And it helps to have rivers running high from snow-melt or high autumnal rainfall – well, we didn’t have that; it’s been a particularly dry summer, and an unexceptional autumn.

Since 1953 the sea defences have been raised to above the ’53 levels, and generally strengthened and improved. So, do your worst, North Sea, I thought. Despite I live cheek-to-jowl with the River Yare – one river, but it takes the combined flow of the Yare, Bure and Waveney – I was not too perturbed.

High tide was due at 10:00 pm. At 8:00 pm, frustrated by the lack of updates on the various news websites, I tuned-in to the local radio.

2 hours before high tide, and already the beach had disappeared. Further north along the coast, where high tide had already hit, cliffs had crumbled (we have sandy cliffs here, no rocks), and homes had tumbled into the sea. Oops. Perhaps I’d underestimated the force of the Surge. I moved my valuables to a higher place – i.e. my hundreds of books, stacking them on top of the wardrobe, chests and other tall furniture. I stuffed rags into plugholes, and weighted them down. Water can rise up through the sewers.

1 hour before high tide, and the sea-front was awash. In neighbouring Lowestoft (10 miles south along coast) the town centre was flooded. Bridges were closed. Public transport stopped. I waited.

At 10:30 pm, high tide now arrived, many areas around town were inundated, but not my side of the quay. I had escaped it!

This morning the radio gives updates on the damage. I feel for those who have lost their homes, yet their numbers are small. Travel disruption is widespread, schools are closed, but it will only be for today. And apart from one unrelated incident, there have been no deaths. For that we can thank our sturdy sea defences.

Yet imagine if we had not had those defences in place. East Norfolk would have been returned to the ‘Great Estuary’ it was when the Romans arrived in 43 A.D. On the map above the sea-line follows the 5 metres contour. Last night’s Surge peaked at over 3 metres. Yarmouth is the yellow blip surrounded by sea.

In conclusion, I say: we in Britain live a charmed existence, and I so keenly feel for those caught in environmental disasters everywhere.

About crispina kemp

Spinner of Asaric and Mythic tales
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4 Responses to Post Flood

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    Comparing the map above to the map from Google satellite makes it clear how extensive the flooding would be in that situation without any coastal defenses. Glad you were able to ride out the storm successfully.

    In this neck of the woods, there are some parts of Boston and its coastal suburbs that routinely flood. One of the dangers people don’t realize is that thanks to a lock, the lower Charles River basin is actually below sea level.


    • crimsonprose says:

      I was aware, all the time I was writing this post, that our mini-disaster was exactly that. We might get floods; the north and west get terrible storms, and yea, there is loss of life. But none compare to the devastation to property and lives in other parts of the world. We don’t volcanoes, (notable) earthquakes (I had experienced one, very minor), no tsunamis, no tornadoes and hurricanes. As I said in the conclusion, we in Britain are blessed. But you’d not believe it to hear all the talk this morning. And in fact the danger isn’t yet passed. This morning’s high tide brought flooding to areas missed last night – though not severe. And we’re still on alert for 10:30 tonight. After which I hope I might catch up on my sleep!
      And in respect of b.s.l. parts of Boston, the Fens area of Lincs & Cambs are likewise – as are the Netherlands. No one has mentioned how they fared, our local press all hyped on one crumbled cliff.


  2. Russell says:

    Glad you are all right, CP; thanks for a vivid and lively post. You must be knackered after all that re-arranging and plugging of holes!
    I was reading about your area on Wikipedia, and I think this line from the article sums up your situation nicely:
    “The town itself is on a thin spit sandwiched between the North Sea and River Yare.”
    Sounds precarious. Glad you are dry so far, and hope you remain so after 10:30 pm. Be safe!


    • crimsonprose says:

      I am reminded of something I once read regarding Egypt. ‘All the great civilizations arose in precarious places.’ Though I’d certainly not claim that for GY. It’s a Viking emporium grown fat on herrings, and now rapidly deteriorating into nothingness. Our kids leave as soon as they have their degrees. It survives on tourism and servicing North Sea rigs. But thank you for your comment. Yea, I am tired. We’ve escaped the worst, but until we get the all-clear after tonight’s high tide, one’s senses are keened and sleep elusive. And so I’m sorting my Christmas trimmings! Not to put up, yet, but to decide which to trash, which to keep.


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