LONDON >> Storm Dennis roared across Britain with high winds and heavy rains today, prompting authorities to issue a record number of flood warnings and alerts for England and a rare “red warning” for extremely life-threatening flooding in Wales.
The Met Office, Britain’s meteorological service, only issues its highest red warning when it thinks the weather will be so dangerous there’s a “risk to life” and that people must take immediate action to protect themselves. It was the first time a red warning has been sounded since December 2015.
Four hours later, the south Wales alert was downgraded to “amber,” which still warns of significant impact from the weather and a “potential risk to life.” The Met Office also had four other amber warnings in place in England and Wales following the torrential downpours.
Wales appeared to be bearing the brunt of the two-day storm after a month’s rain fell in the space of 48 hours. South Wales Police declared a “major incident” following multiple floods, landslides and evacuations. And Gwent Police said residents of Skenfrith, Monmouthshire, were being advised to evacuate due to the flooding.
The Met Office said the highest wind gust recorded was 91 mph at Aberdaron in north Wales on Saturday. It also said a total of 6.1 inches of rain fell at Crai Reservoir in the Welsh county of Powys over 48 hours to this morning.
The River Taff burst its banks in the Welsh town of Pontypool and severe flood warning have been issued for the River Neath in south Wales and the River Teme further north.
As the wet and windy weather started to clear across parts of the south, the number of flood warnings across the U.K. declined but there were still around 350 of them in place Sunday, from the north of Scotland through to Cornwall in southwest England.
John Curtin, the executive director of flood and coastal risk management at the Environment Agency, said in a tweet that at one point during the day, England had the most flood warnings and lower-level alerts in force — 594 — than on any other day on record.
The local authority in Herefordshire, an English county that borders central Wales, declared a “major incident” amid widespread flooding and said it was focusing on making sure ” vulnerable residents are evacuated.” West Mercia Police, also declared a “major incident” for Shropshire, another county in central England that borders Wales.
Flood warnings could remain in place for a while since much of Britain is still saturated from last week’s Storm Ciara, which left eight people dead across Europe.
“Whilst the heaviest rain has cleared from Northern Ireland and Scotland, England and Wales will continue to see heavy rain today, with a risk of severe flooding in places,” said Andy Page, the Met Office’s chief meteorologist.
The fourth named storm of Europe’s winter season has already been blamed for the deaths of two men who were pulled Saturday from the sea in separate searches off England’s southeastern coast.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled due to the high winds while train services were repeatedly disrupted by flooding, affecting tens of thousands of passengers as British families leave for the mid-winter school break.
On Saturday, around 75 British army personnel and 70 reservists helped out communities in the flood-hit Calder Valley region in West Yorkshire, constructing flood barriers and repairing damaged flood defenses.