Droughts and floods   Leave a comment

The other week, a colleague jokingly greeted me by saying “pretty bad times for a flood researcher, isn’t it?”

Indeed, almost exactly four years after the great floods of 2007, there is not much talk about floods in England. Rather, many people seem to be concerned with drought. On the homepage of the Environment Agency, for instance, drought is one of the key issues.

One has to wonder what this does to people’s flood memories. People often say that they are reminded of the floods when it rains heavily. But what happens when it hardly rains at all? Do floods seem even more unlikely during dry periods? And do people stop to remember them because of that? Or are there certain flood memories that do not dry up during a drought?

It is evident that a current drought says little about the likelihood of a flood in the near future. During a recent conference (Learning to live with water), geographer Chad Staddon remembered that exactly four years ago today, on July 12, 2007, he attended a drought meeting in Gloucester because of the then exceptionally dry conditions. Only a week later, the rains began that caused the flood.

Are the same mistakes being made again now? Are we focussing too much on present states, rather than paying attention to the periodic rise and fall in the availability of water?

I think, what we can learn from this is that our world is not static, but it transforms in rhythms. Some periods are drier, some wetter; some of these periods last longer, some of them shorter. It is not a metronomic pattern of predictable periods that are always exactly the same. But droughts and floods do come and go periodically – and just because it is dry now does not mean we can forget floods.

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