Friday, 8 January 2016

Flooding heck! …were they just as bad 2000 years ago?

Friday Frights! 

How to hit the national UK headlines! Sadly, nothing to do with my historical Celtic Fervour or Rubidium Time Travel writing …though that would have been exceedingly lovely.

4th January Kintore from the Boat of Kintore bridge.
January weather in my part of northeast Scotland is as unpredictable as most other months of the year. Expect some snow; some nice clear days that might be a bit chilly; some icy days that are hazardous to shaky limbs; and rain…but wait isn’t that what normal northern hemisphere weather systems are all about?

We’ve recently had unprecedented amounts of rain over the last few days which culminated in horrendous flooding across virtually the whole region of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Since the 4th January I’ve been snapping photos showing the effect that way-more-than normal rainfall has been having on the nearest river to where I stay. Normally the River Don is a small meandering glitter across a flat flood plain in the sunshine. Yes- I said it. There is a flood plain to both sides of the river at my village of Kintore.
River Don taken in August 1997

8th Jan 2016 looking upriver towards Bennachie
The words flood plain indicates that there are often times when the river levels are dangerously high and the water overflows the banks. That has happened regularly since I moved to the village some 27 years ago. Residents of the village have often nodded in acknowledgement that the water level is a bittie-high. And often the country road connecting us to Hatton of Fintray and Balbithan is flooded and impassable till the water level recedes and soaks into the field areas of the flood plain. That’s not happened every year but enough to make the locals add a little extra time onto a journey if they need to find an alternative route somewhere.
4th January Road beyond Boat of Kintore bridge, road to Hatton of Fintray.
Occasionally the main street through the village has a very large puddle on it when the kerbside drains can’t cope, which has made vehicular access difficult, but the main road isn’t normally closed off…for a whole day. And normally that puddle is caused by the actual rainfall and not by the river water coming up to the road to say a very wet and deep hello! What you see in the photo below is the village 'fish and chip' shop. Even if the owner whipped out his fishing rod to catch very fresh fish, I doubt if he'll be opening his shop tonight. 
8th January 2016 Main road through Kintore at 12.15 p.m. when the water level had receded after the high tide peak
Last night, 7th January, was a night which made the UK national news. After days of continuous rainfall, village residents and local businesses close to the riverside sandbagged their doors but even that wasn’t enough to prevent nature taking vengeance on some unfortunate residents.

Middling rainfall morphed seamlessly into predicted light snow around 9 p.m., immediately melting on top of the saturated and water-logged surfaces. At approx. 11.15 p.m. the local electricity sub station became part of the bloated Tuach Burn -renamed Tuach lochan  - and the whole village (now approx. 5000 residents) lost electrical power.  Phone lines were also affected meaning many people lost direct internet connections.  
Tuach Burn becomes Tuach lochan. Electricity sub-station is at the far end of this water behind tree at centre
The expected high tide peaked (I believe) around 2 a.m. and caused a scarily dramatic surge in water levels. High tides, from the North Sea, have been known to do this to local river flows but since my village is about 20 miles upstream, believe me, it’s quite an unusual event. Some unfortunate residents whose property was deluged had to be evacuated - in the dark. Fortunately there were evacuation procedures in place and the emergency crews were well equipped to make the process as pleasant as they could.

Mopping up is now necessary…and planning over how to avoid this happening another time is already afoot. Government ministers are visiting the areas tomorrow to assess the damage. Whatever they agree on won’t help those evacuated residents tomorrow night because more heavy rain, and maybe some snow, is expected.

Having written all of that, my village got off quite light compared to many other towns and villages which border the Rivers Don and Dee. And there were some who were probably quite happy creatures. In the photo below there are a couple of very happy swans idly swimming around in the newly crated loch. They're probably the swans normally seen puttering about on the River Urie some 4 miles upstream who don't generally visit Kintore. 
8th Jan. Swans swimming against Bennachie backdrop.

Why is this situation happening?
Ø      Poor planning measures in place (house building) ? – Maybe.
Ø      Lack of proper flood defences? – Maybe
Ø      Farmers having stripped out the ancient ditches bordering their fields leaving the water run from the hills with nowhere to go? – Maybe

Northeast Scotland has many high hills (Grampian mountains) and a nice big undulating/flat area for farming which borders the North Sea coast.

This link is the SEPA -Scottish Environment Protection Agency- which has a map to show where the River Don should normally be found and where it is now. Click HERE to see the map. 

I have to wonder if the characters I’m writing about in my Celtic Fervour novels, or those Taexali Celts (and maybe even the invading Romans) in The Taexali Game- my novels set in Aberdeenshire of A.D. 84 and A.D. 210 respectively, were ever bothered with floods in their settlements.

Ø      Did the local rivers overflow their banks as much as they do now? – Maybe.
Ø      Or… is it because over the centuries the course of the river has consistently altered to suit the rainfall which is a natural occurrence in this part of the world? - Maybe

What do you think? 


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