Storm Desmond

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Desmond Dec 5, 2015.png
Desmond on 5 December 2015
TypeExtratropical cyclone
Formed3 December 2015
Dissipated8 December 2015
Highest winds
  • 81 mph (130 km/h)
Highest gust112 mph (180 km/h)
(Aonach Mòr, Scottish Highlands)[1]
Lowest pressure939 mb (27.7 inHg)
Damage≥ £870 million (≥ €970 million) (2015)[2]
Power outages46,300[3][4][5][6]
Areas affectedIreland, Isle of Man, United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway, Sweden[9]

Storm Desmond was an extratropical cyclone and fourth named storm of the 2015–16 UK and Ireland windstorm season, notable for directing a plume of moist air, known as an atmospheric river,[1][10] which brought record amounts of orographic rainfall to upland areas of northern Atlantic Europe and subsequent major floods.[11]

In the United Kingdom, the worst affected areas were centred on Cumbria, parts of Lancashire, and the Scottish Borders. In Ireland, the worst affected areas were in the Shannon River Basin, in the west and Irish midlands.[12] Severe rain and some flooding was also reported in Northumberland, north Wales and Yorkshire.[13] Disruption from flooding, high winds, and damage to infrastructure led to the suspension of hundreds of rail services across the country, with the West Coast Main Line closed for several days due to flooding and a landslide. Sports fixtures were also cancelled and more than 43,000 homes across the north of England were left without power, as well as over 2,000 homes in the Republic of Ireland and around 700 in Wales. The extent of damage caused in such a short period across wide areas brought into focus the performance of UK central government flood defence strategies.[14]

The expected heavy rainfall was considered to be an extreme weather event by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, who named it Synne.[15] The Free University of Berlin named the low Ted, as part of its Adopt–a–vortex programme.[16]

Meteorological history[edit]

Path of Storm Desmond.
Map key
  Tropical depression (≤38 mph, ≤62 km/h)
  Tropical storm (39–73 mph, 63–118 km/h)
  Category 1 (74–95 mph, 119–153 km/h)
  Category 2 (96–110 mph, 154–177 km/h)
  Category 3 (111–129 mph, 178–208 km/h)
  Category 4 (130–156 mph, 209–251 km/h)
  Category 5 (≥157 mph, ≥252 km/h)
Storm type
▲ Extratropical cyclone / Remnant low / Tropical disturbance / Monsoon depression


On 4 December, the Met Office issued a yellow warning for wind across most of the north of the UK, with gusts expected to reach 70 mph (110 km/h) in south-west Scotland. Yellow warnings had also been given for rain in Northern Ireland, the north of Wales and central Scotland. An amber warning for rain was issued in parts of central and southern Scotland, Tayside and Fife; forecasting up to 200 mm (7.9 in) of rain on high ground over a 30-hour period.[17] Met Éireann issued a status red rainfall warning for areas of Connacht, as well as counties Donegal, Clare and Kerry, with Clare County Council issuing a flood warning.[18]

On 5 December, the Met Office issued a red severe weather warning for rain in Cumbria, with 150 mm (5.9 in) to 200 mm (7.9 in) expected in some places. It was the first such warning since storm Tini in February 2014.[19] The Environment Agency had severe flood warnings in place for parts of the River Tyne in Northumberland and across Cumbria.[20]

Weather warnings[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

Weather warnings in the United Kingdom are issued by the Met Office.

Warning Severity Event Date Areas affected
Red Rain 5–6 December North West England; SW Scotland, Lothian & Borders
Orange Rain 5–6 December Central, Tayside & Fife; North East England; Strathclyde; Yorkshire & Humber
Orange Wind 5–6 December North East England; North West England; SW Scotland, Lothian Borders; and Yorkshire & Humber
Yellow Rain 5–6 December Grampian; Highlands & Eilean Siar; Northern Ireland; Wales
Yellow Wind 5–6 December Central, Tayside & Fife; East Midlands; Grampian; Highlands & Eilean Siar; Northern Ireland; Strathclyde; Wales; West Midlands

Republic of Ireland[edit]

Weather warnings in the Republic of Ireland are issued by Met Éireann.

Warning Severity Event Date Areas affected
Red Rain 5 December Connacht and counties Clare, Donegal and Kerry
Orange Rain 5 December Counties Cavan, Cork and Limerick
Orange Wind 5 December Counties Clare, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow
Yellow Rain 5 December Leinster and counties Monaghan, Tipperary and Waterford
Yellow Wind 5 December Counties Carlow, Cavan, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary and Westmeath
Orange Rain 11 December Counties Clare, Cork and Kerry
Yellow Rain 11 December Connacht, Leinster and counties Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford
Yellow Rain 15 December Counties Cork, Kerry and Waterford

Weather records[edit]

Storm Desmond broke the United Kingdom's 24-hour rainfall record, with 341.4 mm (13.44 in) of rain falling in Honister Pass, Cumbria, on 5 December.[21] The previous record was set in 2009, also in Cumbria, when 316.4 mm (12.46 in) of rain fell in Seathwaite.[21] The highest standard 09:00 GMT – 09:00 GMT rain day record however remains 279 mm (11.0 in) at Martinstown, Dorset set on 18 July 1955, as much of the historical data is recorded in this way.[22] The 48‑hour rainfall record also looked set to be beaten, with Thirlmere reporting 405 mm (15.9 in) of rain falling up to 08:00 GMT on 6 December 2015, compared to the previous record of 395.6 mm (15.57 in) on 18–19 November 2009 at Seathwaite.[22]


Satellite image of the plume of moist air, known as an atmospheric river, brought to Western Europe by Desmond

Desmond created an atmospheric river in its wake, bringing in moist air from the Caribbean to the British Isles. As a result, rainfall from Desmond was unusually heavy, with the Norwegian Meteorological Institute designating Desmond an extreme weather event as a result of the expected rainfall.

Heavy rainfall from Desmond caused severe disruption. Appleby, Keswick and Kendal in the English county of Cumbria suffered blocked roads, collapsed bridges and some homes were evacuated; Cumbria Police declared the situation a "major incident".[23] Many houses in Carlisle were flooded, and tens of thousands of properties in Lancaster lost power when a sub-station was flooded.[24]

About 5,200 homes were flooded in Lancashire and Cumbria[25] and approximately 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders as a result of the River Teviot flooding. The River Nith burst its banks in Dumfries, flooding part of the town,[26] with a major emergency being declared in Dumfries & Galloway as a result.[27] Landslides and flooding closed some main roads in Scotland and Counties Down and Tyrone in Northern Ireland suffered road closures from fallen trees.[23]

In the Republic of Ireland, the worst affected areas were the province of Connacht and counties Donegal, Westmeath, Tipperary, Limerick, Clare, Cork and Kerry. Multiple, particularly local, roads were closed as a result of rivers breaching their banks and excess rainfall. In Connacht, the damage was worst in Athleague, Ballinasloe, Carrick-on-Shannon, Claregalway, Crossmolina, Foxford and Galway city. Millions of euro worth of damage was caused in Bandon, Fermoy, Kenmare and Tralee, while the Blackpool area of Cork city was severely affected by a higher level of water flow in the River Lee. Heavy rain has also resulted in severe flooding in communities along the River Shannon, namely Athlone, Portumna, Shannon Harbour, Montpelier, Castleconnell, Clonlara, Parteen, Annacotty and Limerick city. The river breached its banks in Athlone on 9 December.[28] Other areas affected due to heavy rainfall included Bray, Clonmel and Ennis. In Glaslough, County Monaghan, the body of a 70-year-old man was found when his car was believed to have become trapped in a dipped part of a flooded road.[29]

Further heavy rainfall exacerbated existing problems on the Isle of Man, which had been struck by localised flash flooding on 3 December,[30][31] with warnings that Desmond could bring more flooding and more damage to the island.[32]

In Wales, heavy rainfall led to flooding close to Llandygai, near Bangor in Gwynedd, with RNLI coastguard helicopters rescuing one person from their car.[33] Flooding was also reported on Anglesey, in parts of Powys and in and around the South Wales city of Swansea.[33] Wind damage was reported in Llandudno as winds gusted to 83 mph within the Snowdonia National Park.

A 90-year-old man was killed after being blown into the side of a route 143 bus outside Finchley Central tube station in London by a sudden gust of wind around 12:35 GMT.[34]

A waterfall appeared at Malham Cove for a short time due to heavy rainfall. This had not previously happened in living memory.[35]

Carlisle Civic Centre in the floodwater, December 2015


Around 43,000 homes were left without power on 4 December in North East England, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire as a result of the storm, with 38,500 homes having power restored within 24 hours.[3] 621 homes in the North Yorkshire town of Leyburn were left without power due to storm damage during the evening of 4 December, with 428 homes being reconnected to the power grid by Northern Powergrid later that day; the remaining 190 had their power restored on 5 December.[36] In addition, over 2,000 homes were left without power in the Republic of Ireland as a result of Storm Desmond, mainly along the country's Atlantic west coast.[37] Flooding led to at least 700 homes in parts of Wales being left without power, with power faults being reported in Corwen in Denbighshire, in Bala in Gwynedd, and in Trefriw and Llanrwst in Conwy county.[33] On the night of 5 December, the city of Lancaster in North West England saw 61,000 houses lose power when its electrical substation was submerged in flood water, alongside the city's bus station and local supermarket. Houses in the surrounding towns of Morecambe, Heysham and Carnforth also lost power and two nearby Universities, Lancaster University and the Lancashire Campus of the University of Cumbria, were forced to evacuate students, cancel teaching and postpone deadlines. Mobile generators had restored electricity to most homes by 7 December when unforeseen damage caused up to 42,000 to lose power again, resulting in many being left without electricity for three consecutive nights.[38][39][40]


Pooley Bridge at Pooley Bridge, Cumbria washed away on 6 December. The bridge had stood since 1764.

There was major disruption to rail services in the north of England and in Scotland on 5 and 6 December, affecting services operated by Abellio ScotRail, First TransPennine Express, Northern Rail and Virgin Trains West Coast, as well as the Caledonian Sleeper. As a result of flooding and landslides along the West Coast Main Line (WCML) between Preston and Carlisle, all services between northern England and Scotland via the WCML were suspended on 6 December, with passengers advised not to travel.

As a result of this, the Caledonian Sleeper overnight service was forced to divert via the East Coast Main Line to avoid the WCML closure, while First TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains services were suspended entirely north of Preston. Abellio ScotRail suspended services between Carlisle and Glasgow Central. In addition, Northern Rail suspended all of their services north of Preston as well as services between Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness, Hexham, Lancaster and Skipton as a result of high winds, severe flooding and landslides across the north-west of England. The ongoing weather situation resulted in National Rail declaring 'major disruption' across the north of England.[41]

Arriva Trains Wales services between Bangor and Holyhead were suspended due to flooding, while services into and out of Chester were suspended due to high winds creating debris on the railway line, including a bus shelter, which was struck by a train prior to service being suspended.[33]

Dozens of domestic, UK and international flights were cancelled at Dublin Airport on 5 December due to high winds, severely affecting carriers such as Aer Lingus and Ryanair.[42] Strong crosswinds caused difficult conditions for landing aircraft at many airports, including Leeds Bradford Airport,[43] although many UK airports escaped significant disruption regardless. A 200-year-old bridge in the Isle of Man collapsed amid severe flooding[44]


A number of Scottish football fixtures scheduled for 5 December were postponed as a result of Desmond.[45] In the Scottish Premiership, three fixtures were postponed: the match between Celtic and Hamilton Academical and the match between Partick Thistle and Motherwell were both postponed due to waterlogged pitches following heavy rainfall, while the match between Hearts and Inverness Caledonian Thistle was postponed due to high winds. In addition, two Scottish Championship fixtures, one Scottish League One fixture and two Scottish Cup fixtures were also postponed on 5 December.[45]

Desmond also impacted English football; in the National League, the fixture between Barrow and Boreham Wood was postponed on 5 December,[45] while Football League Two side Carlisle United's Brunton Park stadium was flooded with several feet of water on 6 December.[46] Carlisle United played home fixtures in December and January at grounds in Preston, Blackpool and Blackburn.[47]

In Scottish rugby, the Pro12 fixture between Glasgow Warriors and Leinster was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch on 5 December.[45]

IR Satellite image of low Desmond centred close to Iceland

Subsequent flooding[edit]

The village of Glenridding flooded for a second time on 9 December.[48] Widespread flooding was expected after heavy rains on Boxing Day as a result of Storm Eva, with the Met Office issuing a red warning for parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and


Expensive flood defence systems were proven ineffective and in some cases appeared to increase the problem. Professor Dieter Helm, Chair of the UK government's Natural Capital Committee stated in January 2016: "Flooding crises tend to follow an established pattern. First, there is immediate help and assistance. Then second, there is a “review”. On occasions, this leads to a third stage of genuine reform, but in most cases “sticking plasters” are applied. These are incremental and often sensible, but typically fail to address the core issues and hence provide only a temporary respite. There are very good reasons why ”sticking plasters” will not work this time. The conventional approach to flood defence, carried out by the Environment Agency (EA), and financed largely by the Treasury, is at best inefficient. Sometimes it is even counterproductive, encouraging the sorts of land use and land management decisions that can actually make flooding worse in the medium term."[14] The Chairman of the UK's Environment Agency, the body responsible for main river maintenance resigned in early 2016. The UK government House of Commons Select Committee for the environment challenged the Chief Executive Officer of the Environment Agency on its performance by stating: “You [Sir James Bevan, CEO] said "The capacity of a river doesn't matter!" You've got to be certain the leopard has changed its spots. And I will keep repeating this. You haven't really given us an answer as to whether you have monitored the situation. I'm fearful. You allowed the River Parrett [Somerset] to silt up, you allowed the Tone to silt up, you allowed the tributaries to silt up, and then it flooded.” The Committee added: “The EA don't provide [quotes for work] when doing projects so we can't compare like with like [with other project providers]. There is an argument for transparency on your spending... You say the right words and hold onto your power."[49]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Erdman, Jon (6 December 2015). "Storm Desmond Lashes U.K., Ireland With Flooding, Winds Over 100 MPH; Taps Caribbean Moisture". Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  2. ^ "Global Catastrophe Recap December 2015" (PDF). Aon Benfield. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2022-04-22.
  3. ^ a b Will Metcalfe (5 December 2015). "Storm Desmond hits North East RECAP: Corbridge homes evacuated and 70mph winds batter region". nechronicle. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  4. ^ Daniel Milligan (5 December 2015). "Corbridge homes evacuated and 70mph winds batter region". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  5. ^ "Storm Desmond hits UK". BBC News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  6. ^ "Floods, power outages and travel issues across Ireland". The Irish Times. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Storm Desmond: Met Office warns of more heavy rain and gale-force winds as clean-up continues". 8 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Tyrone showband era star Ivan swept to his death in Storm Desmond floodwaters".
  9. ^ "Fuktiga sydvästvindar gav mycket höga flöden i Västsverige" (in Swedish). SMHI. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  10. ^ @NWSOPC (5 December 2015). "CIRA layered PW helps visualize #AtmosphericRiver; easy to see AR stretching from the Caribbean to Ireland/UK! #GRPG" (Tweet). Retrieved 5 December 2015 – via Twitter.
  11. ^ Hammond, John (8 December 2015). "Why has Cumbria flooded again?". BBC Weather. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  12. ^ "Dramatic aerial footage shows 'unstoppable' floods as Met Eireann issues new weather warning". Irish Independent. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  13. ^ "Storm Desmond". Met Office. 4 December 2015. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  14. ^ a b Helm, Dieter (January 2016). "Flood defence: time for a radical rethink".
  15. ^ "Fase C: Ekstremværet Synne er i gang" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Meteorological Institute. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Analysis". Free University of Berlin. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  17. ^ "Storm Desmond to bring heavy rain and strong winds". BBC News. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  18. ^ "Status Red warning as Storm Desmond approaches". RTÉ News. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  19. ^ Dutton, Liam (5 December 2015). "Cumbria floods: when will the rain stop?". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  20. ^ "Storm Desmond results in a red severe weather warning for rain in Cumbria". Met Office. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  21. ^ a b "UK climate - Extremes - Met Office".
  22. ^ a b "Storm Desmond breaks UK rainfall record". ITV. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  23. ^ a b "Storm Desmond brings flooding and disruption to parts of UK". BBC News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  24. ^ "Storm Desmond: Thousands of people flooded out of homes". BBC. 8 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  25. ^ "Storm Desmond: Your questions answered". BBC News. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  26. ^ "Red Warning as Storm Desmond batters parts of Scotland". BBC News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  27. ^ "Major emergency declared in Dumfries & Galloway". ITV News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  28. ^ "Flooding 'not set to peak until Sunday' and threat will remain next week - national emergency meeting -". Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  29. ^ "Singer Ivan Vaughan dies in floods in Co Monaghan". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  30. ^ "Bridge collapse bus to be recovered after IoM flooding". BBC News. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  31. ^ "Bridge collapse bus to be recovered after IoM flooding". BBC News. 4 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  32. ^ "Storm Desmond expected to wreak more havoc". Manx Radio. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  33. ^ a b c d "700 homes without power as 83mph winds batter north Wales". BBC News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  34. ^ "Man, 90, dies after being ' blown into path of moving bus'". BBC News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  35. ^ "Malham Cove: Storm Desmond brings 'highest' waterfall back to life". BBC News.
  36. ^ "Storm damage leaves Leyburn homes without power". BBC News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  37. ^ "Storm Desmond: Power cuts for 2,000 and flights diverted as wind and rain hits". BBC News. 5 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  38. ^ "Floods caused havoc in Lancaster and Morecambe". Lancaster Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  39. ^ "Lancaster flooding: Restored power lost at flood-hit homes". BBC News. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  40. ^ "Evidence suggests climate change played a part in Cumbria floods - Met Office". Lancashire Evening Post. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  41. ^ "National Rail Enquiries - Service Alteration Details". Archived from the original on 6 December 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  42. ^ Ramzy Alwakeel (5 December 2015). "Misery for holidaymakers as flights grounded at Dublin Airport thanks to Storm Desmond". Evening Standard. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  43. ^ Anthony Bond (5 December 2015). "UK weather: Dramatic moment pilot battles Storm Desmond gusts to land plane at Leeds Bradford airport". mirror. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  44. ^ "Bridge collapse bus to be recovered after IoM flooding". BBC. 4 December 2015.
  45. ^ a b c d "Bad weather forces postponement of Scottish sport fixtures". BBC Sport. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  46. ^ "Storm Desmond: Aerial images show Carlisle floods". ITV News. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  47. ^ Cartwright, Phil (20 December 2015). "Football League: Five things you may have missed". BBC Sport. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  48. ^ Quinn, Ben (10 December 2015). "Cumbrian village deals with more devastation as river bursts banks again". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  49. ^ Defra (2016) Enquiry session held on 13 April 2016…/6c734492- 077e-441f-8417-aa0e…

External links[edit]