Three months on from the winter storms

A photo of NRW staff inspecting a river bank for flood damage

Three months on from the February storms, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has underlined its commitment to doing all it can to help make Wales’ communities more resilient to the effects of extreme weather events.

Against the backdrop of coronavirus restrictions, NRW has been working continuously on its vital flood recovery and review activities, learning lessons from the incidents and undertaking essential inspections and repairs to flood defences affected by storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge.

The three storms to hit the UK in as many weeks earlier this year led to the most severe and widespread flooding incidents seen in Wales for many years. NRW’s dedicated and experienced teams were out in force before, during and after the storms, working closely with local authorities and emergency services to prepare and respond to the events.

At the peak of storm Dennis, there were 61 flood alerts, 89 flood warnings and two severe flood warnings in force - more than NRW has ever issued for a single storm before.

The River Taff at Pontypridd reached its highest levels in more than 40 years - 80 cm higher than the level recorded during the floods that devastated much of Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taf in 1979.

At the peak of the flood in Pontypridd, NRW estimates that 740 tonnes of water per second was flowing down the River Taff – enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every three seconds.

The Met Office later confirmed that February 2020 was the wettest February on record.

While the data reinforces the magnitude of the events, the personal impacts of the storms were felt right across the country.

North Wales communities experienced the full effect of storm Ciara, and the impacts of Dennis were felt strongly in many communities across south Wales, particularly in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

A comprehensive flood recovery and review process is now underway with NRW working alongside local authorities and partner agencies across Wales to learn from the effects of the storms.  

CEO of NRW Clare Pillman said:

“We do not underestimate the impact that February’s storms have had on people’s lives. That impact is now being felt more deeply than ever due to the additional pressures being exerted on our communities by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We want to ensure that those affected know they are not alone, and they have certainly not been forgotten. The resilience we saw in our communities earlier this year was remarkable, and their determination to overcome the challenges of the last few months has been just as inspiring.
“That is why our commitment to working with our partners to move the recovery process forward has been unwavering. We are doing all we can to reassure our communities, and ourselves that our defences, our modelling and our future plans are robust and ready to deal with the warmer, wetter, less predictable climate that scientists and our own experts tell us we must expect in the years to come.”

Over the last three months NRW has also been putting the most at-risk communities front and centre of its recovery efforts, with the aim of managing the flood risk and building resilience for the future - even in the unprecedented circumstances Wales experienced just three months ago.

Work carried out to date has included:

  • Working closely with and taking an active role in Rhondda Cynon Taf’s flood recovery group.
  • Inspection and maintenance of critical assets in proximity to properties and infrastructure right across Wales to ensure they continue to operate effectively.
  • Repairs to defences have been carried out at Bangor on Dee and Llanrwst. Recovery work has also taken place at Llanfair Talhaiarn and we are now progressing with implementing short term improvements while we discuss concerns issues and options with the community.
  • Post flood investigations and inspections on structures and embankments in North Powys.
  • Assessments on potential defence work on culverts in Whitebarn and Gwydyr forest in the Conwy Valley and at Ely Bridge near Cardiff. 

Jeremy Parr, head of flood and incident risk management at NRW, said:

“Flooding has a devastating effect on lives and those that continue to live through the aftermath of the winter storms are at the forefront of our minds as we undertake this recovery work.
“We’ve made huge strides in improving Wales’ resilience to flooding over the decades.
“Our defences are making a difference, our forecasting is better, and our modelling has improved, meaning that the potential impact of severe storms has been significantly reduced. However, we absolutely recognise that this will come as little comfort to those affected by February’s events.
“As we continue to learn throughout this recovery and review process, we are also looking to plan for the future. The scientific consensus is that our climate is changing and extreme weather events like those experienced this winter will become more common.
“There is still a lot to do and we will all need to change and adapt to make ourselves as resilient as possible to the impacts climate change will continue to have on our communities. In the short term and the long term, we remain determined to work in partnership to build that resilience and enhance our readiness to tackle the climate emergency as a collective.”