Flooding in Maidenhead

March 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the infamous Thames Valley floods of March 1947. The event is currently (February 2017-April 2017) being marked by an exhibition FLOOD! at the Maidenhead Heritage Centre.

Shown below are some of the meteorological conditions and features of the weather that led to this, and other, floods in the area in the past 70 years.

Note that this account of local floods only mentions some of the more memorable and widespread ones. There were, in particular, several noteworthy ones in the 1800s.

March 1947


Temperatures and precipitation in January-March 1947, recorded at the University of Reading.

It had been especially cold during late January to late February with daytime temperatures failing to exceed 5C for five weeks. March 1947 then saw probably the most severe flooding of the River Thames in the twentieth century in the local area, a result of the sudden thaw of melting snow coinciding with still-frozen soil conditions (see also Brugge and Burt, One hundred years of Reading weather. In East Berkshire average March temperatures were nearly 3 degC below normal, while the winter had been one of the coldest locally in the period 1860-2016.

So, following large amounts of precipitation in early March which led to the wettest March month in Maidenhead since before 1860, when the snow began to melt and the ground was still frozen all the meltwater ran in the Thames. Just down the road from Maidenhead, Windsor was also badly affected.

1954


Daily precipitation during 1954 as measured in Hurley.

Following a dry April, the months of May, June, July, August and November were each wetter than normal, according to measurements made at the Grassland Research Institute in Hurley. The end of November was particluarly wet (68.5 mm falling in nine days) while a fall of 35.1 mm on 8 December meant that 110 mm in total fell over 17 days - equivalent to about two months of rainfall in just 17 days - after a wet summer and a not-very-dry autumn.

Similar rainfall distributions occurred across much of the UK - with widespread floods as a result. Maidenhead and Windsor did not escape the flooding that followed after the 35.1 mm fall.

1974

The floods of 1974 were the result of a very wet late summer and autumn. In fact, the autumn the wettest in the town on record during 1860-2016.


Daily precipitation during 1974 as measured in Hurley.


Autumn rainfall in the Maidenhead area, 1860-2016.

There was appreciable flooding in Maidenhead and Bray that lasted for three days during November 1974 - hardly surprising after 101.6 mm of rain fell at Hurley during 9 days from 13 November - or about 6 weeks-worth of autumn rainfall in just over a week following previous wet months. More than 500 properties in this area were affected in this area alone and some homes were totally cut off as the waters rose.

1989-1990


Daily rainfall in Maidenhead during winter 1989-1990. The dotted, straight blue line shows the expected rate of rainfall accumulation from 1 December, while the dark blue curve shows what happened this season.

After a wet winter, a wet spell during early February again led to flooding along the Thames. Shortly before the proposed flood alleviation scheme was ratified the Thames burst it's banks. One of the hardest hit areas was Maidenhead. Possibly the damage was more serious in the town due to a large amount of debris in the river at the time.

2000

Autumn 2000 was another wet season.


Daily rainfall in Maidenhead during autumn 2000. The dotted, straight blue line shows the expected rate of rainfall accumulation from 1 September, while the dark blue curve shows what happened this season.

According to the Met Office, the flooding that occurred across much of England and Wales in the autumn and early winter of 2000 was the most extensive since the snowmelt-generated floods of March 1947. In all, 10,000 homes and businesses were flooded at 700 locations. Peak flows on five major rivers - the Thames, Trent, Severn, Wharfe and Dee - were the highest for sixty years, and the River Ouse in Yorkshire reached its highest level since the 1600s. Many river catchments were subjected to multiple flood events, especially in south-east England.

A chronology for Windsor can be seen here while a Maidenhead perspective can be seen here.

2013-2014


Daily rainfall in Maidenhead during winter 2013-2014. The dotted, straight blue line shows the expected rate of rainfall accumulation from 1 December, while the dark blue curve shows what happened this season.

Following the wettest winter locally for over 16 years, the BBC noted on 10 February 2014:

Flooded homes along the River Thames are being evacuated and thousands more are at risk, with water levels expected to keep rising for the next 24 hours. Residents in one Berkshire village say the scenes are from a "horror movie". Fourteen severe flood warnings are in place in Berkshire and Surrey, while two remain in Somerset. PM David Cameron, who is touring flood-hit south-west England, said it was not the time to change personnel amid criticism of the Environment Agency. Chancellor George Osborne, meanwhile, said people understood "that the rain is not the fault of any one person". Homes, shops and businesses in the Berkshire village of Datchet are underwater and hundreds more along the lower River Thames, as far as Shepperton, are under threat, the Environment Agency says.

However, due to the local flood alleviation scheme (The Jubilee River) Maidenhead escaped relatively lightly this time - the effects seem to have been felt further downstream.

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