Destroyed bridge in Newlands valley after floods of November 2009

Extreme weather events

The Lake District climate is generally mild due to the influence of the sea. Occasionally however, the Lake District sees weather conditions which are out of the ordinary.

2009 Floods in Keswick and Cockermouth

“A once in a thousand year event” they called it. 19 November 2009 saw 314.4mm of rain fall on Seathwaite in Borrowdale in one 24 hour period.

The River Derwent and the River Cocker which drain the Borrowdale and Buttermere valleys simply could not contain that amount of water. By early afternoon on 19 Nov 2009 the main street of Cockermouth was a raging torrent. People had to be rescued by boat from the upper floors or even the roofs of their houses.

The River Greta in Keswick also burst its banks flooding homes and businesses. Across Cumbria six bridges collapsed under the force of the water and all 1800 bridges in the county needed checking. Around 1300 homes and businesses were destroyed by the floods in Cockermouth, Keswick, Ulverston, Workington, Kendal and other smaller communities.

The Lake District National Park had properties flooded at Bowness Bay Tourist Information Centre and Coniston Boating Centre. However Cumbria Tourism was quick to reassure tourists that many areas of Cumbria were unaffected.

Why was there so much rain?

According to the Met Office this unprecedented level of rainfall was due to an Atlantic weather front becoming almost stationary over Northern Ireland, Cumbria and south-west Scotland.

This front and the south-westerly winds associated with it drew very warm, moist air up from the Azores region. The rain was intensified by the effect of the mountains causing record breaking rainfall totals. The ground was already saturated from weeks of heavy rainfall and disaster was inevitable.

Will it happen again?

We do not know the answer to this. Climate experts tell us that as the planet warms, extreme weather events will be more common. We have to be prepared.

Extreme weather events from the past

November 2009: 314.4mm of rain fell in Seathwaite in 24 hours – a new record for England. Cockermouth and Keswick flooded.

7 and 8 January 2005: Storms batter Cumbria – a gust of 111 knots recorded on Great Dun Fell – many trees blown down.

Summer 1995: Drought year. Haweswater reservoir 89 per cent empty and the drowned village of Mardale visible.

31 Jan 1995: 100mm of rain overnight cause floods that change the course of Raise Beck - Dunmail Raise - to flow to Grasmere instead of Thirlmere Reservoir.

July 1988: Grasmere had its wettest month of the 20th century.

Summer 1984: Drought year. Drowned village of Mardale visible in Haweswater reservoir.

Feb 1984: Over 600 mm of snow fell in some areas of the District.

July 1983: Temperature in Ambleside reached 31.7C, the same figure as in 1934.

1963: Windermere completely freezes over.

Nov 1955: Seathwaite in Borrowdale received 204mm of rain within 24 hours, about one quarter of the annual rainfall for Penrith.

1954: Sprinkling Tarn near Sty Head received 6527.8mm of rain this year - the same height as 1.5 double-decker buses!

Jan 1940: Temperature in Ambleside dropped to –21.1C. Ice measuring over 305 mm thick was recorded on Derwentwater.

May 1935: Keswick in contrast to 1922 received 294.9 hours of sunshine in this month.

July 1934: The temperature in Ambleside reached 31.7C.

Dec 1922: During this month Keswick only received 5.5 hours of sunshine.

Oct 1898: Flooding caused the level of Windermere to rise 2130 mm above its normal level.

Nov 1683 - Feb 1684: Windermere frozen over, the longest recorded period for this event.