2008 Morpeth floods
Telford Bridge, 1332 BST 6 September 2008
|Duration||6 September 2008|
|Areas affected||Morpeth, Northumberland|
The 2008 Morpeth Flood occurred on Saturday, 6 September 2008. It was caused by heavy sustained rainfall in the preceding 24 hours. The River Wansbeck burst its banks and inundated the town’s flood defences around 1500 BST, causing damage to 995 properties, 906 of which were residential.
Previous flooding events occurred in 1863, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1881, 1886, 1898, 1900, 1903, 1924, 1963 and 1968 (Cotting Burn).
The last major flood to affect Morpeth had taken place on 7 March 1963. Unlike the 2008 flood, the primary cause was rapid thawing of snow and ice in the town and Wansbeck valley. The winter of 1962/3 was particularly harsh and snow had built up to over 3 ft in the upper valley areas. All this snow thawed in a 48 hour period, overwhelming the River Wansbeck drainage basin system. 482 homes and 21 businesses were damaged by the ensuing surge. In the aftermath a relief fund was set up, raising £16,000 that was paid out to 350 claims. An estimated £50,000 of losses was suffered by businesses and the local authority.
Following the 1963 flood, a flood defence scheme was established. Flood walls were erected on the north bank to protect the main business district. Housing properties at Middle Greens on the south bank were also protected by flood walls.
In 1992, a record peak water level of 3.19 metres (10.5 ft) was recorded in the river channel. The 2008 flood level was 0.8 metres higher than this. However, there was not a flood event in 1992 as the defences successfully protected the town centre.
The low pressure "Mattea" formed at the southern tip of Greenland on September 3, deepening to approximately 980hpa as it passed to the south of Ireland on September 5. The low then remained in place over the UK before dissipating on September 9. An occluded front associated with this low moved slowly north across the UK producing flash flooding across the Midlands and the North. The Environment Agency recorded 150 millimetres (5.9 in) of precipitation falling in the Wansbeck catchment between Friday 5 September and Saturday 6 September. Figures suggest that in Morpeth alone there was 86 millimetres (3.4 in) of rain compared to an average of 74 millimetres (2.9 in) for a month. Environment Agency statistics show that it was a unique event as peak river discharge was the highest that had ever been recorded.
The River Wansbeck Valley is narrow and steep and as a consequence has exaggerated amounts of surface runoff. Based on three storm events, a reliable flow gauge located upstream of Morpeth at the confluence of the Wansbeck and Font showed that 56% of rain fall is converted into surface runoff. Because the soil was already saturated as a result of the wet summer, the effect of surface runoff was greatly enhanced. Furthermore, increased urbanisation since the 1960s in Morpeth meant that most water falling on the town would have drained directly to the river channel. Other tests investigating the catchment lag time (time lapse between the midpoint of storm rainfall and peak river level) indicate that the Wansbeck has a LAG time of only 8 hours. This means that any water falling in the catchment area would have been rapidly converted into channel flow by surface runoff and to a lesser extent by throughflow. This is due to the steepness of the valley and the soil composition.
During 6 September 2008, more than 400 residents were evacuated. Shelter was provided in the Town Hall, King Edward VI High School and County Hall. An error made by the Environment Agency's warning system meant that 198 properties in the Middle Greens area of the town did not receive a flood warning. Fire fighters, ambulance crews, the RAF, the RNLI and the British Red Cross were among the emergency services involved in rescue and recovery operations over the weekend, as well as some local nurses, GPs, a pharmacist and school staff who volunteered once the news of the flood broke out. They worked through the night attending to those affected. Many residents were forced from their homes, and lived in caravans or with relatives as rebuilding took place.
995 properties in Morpeth town centre were directly affected by the flood water. Among the businesses in the town centre, Smails and Sons, a shop that has been a cornerstone of the Morpeth community for over 60 years, was left completely out of stock. Early estimates suggest that damages could be over £10 million. However, the actual figure was much greater, with total losses estimated at £40 million. On Sunday 7 September, Morpeth Lions Club and the Red Cross launched the Morpeth Flood Disaster Fund and by Wednesday 10 September had raised over £20,000.
At the peak of the flood, Morpeth High Street (Bridge Street) was under 60 centimetres (2.0 ft) of water. Not since 1963 had the main street been flooded. The library suffered severe structural damage due to the heavy debris transported by the river. Such was the extent of the damage that structural engineers were required to test its safety.
Aftermath and solutions
On Monday 8 September 2008, John Healey, Floods Recovery Minister visited Morpeth. Official Government aid was pledged to the local authority to help with costs of the disaster through the Bellwin scheme. Mr Healey was also in talks with insurance industry chiefs, discussing their plans for dealing with a large number of claims in affected areas as quickly and effectively as possible.
Furthermore, discussions with the Environment Agency to bring forward proposals for new flood defences took place. An Environment Agency report of December 2007 suggested improvements are needed to the town flood walls. Oldgate Bridge may need some structural changes made as it has a damming effect during flood events. An upstream reservoir to hold back flood water was also proposed. If successful, improvements could be made by 2011.
Morpeth Lions Club aims to raise £100,000 which could be paid out to those without insurance.
- Morpeth Herald 6 March 2003
- Morpeth Herald "Worst on Record" Thursday 11 September 2008
- "Klassische Wolkenstruktur von Tief 'Mattea'" (in German). donnerwetter.de. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
- "England struck by flash flooding". BBC. Retrieved 23 May 2012.
- BBC News "Flood clean-up operation begins" Monday 8 September 2008
- T Willison, Environment Agency Regional Director
- Environment Agency, Wansbeck and Blyth Catchment Flood Management Plan
- BBC News 'Morpeth a scene of devastation' Sunday 7 September 2008
- Morpeth Herald "Morpeth Flood Appeal tops £20,000" Wednesday 10 September 2008
- The Morpeth Flood project (Geoff Parkin, Newcastle University, School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences)
- morpeth flood videos
- morpeth herald photos today flood photos