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Storm surge — November 2007

Storm surges can cause waves to breach defences

During the first week of November 2007 the Met Office began to grow concerned about conditions in the North Sea. The forecast strong winds combined with high tides indicated that, on 9 November, some Eastern coastal areas could face their biggest storm surge for more than 50 years.

A deep area of low pressure, which brought severe gales to parts of Northern Scotland, crossed the North Sea 'pushing' water south towards the narrower and shallower parts, thus creating a storm surge.

The Met Office worked closely with the Environment Agency, the Cabinet Office, and emergency services to ensure emergency planning procedures were in place.

On 9 November the actual recorded sea levels came to just 10 cm below the top of most of the sea walls in and around Great Yarmouth, within, according to the Environment Agency, a 'hair's breadth' of breaching them.

What we did

  • On 5 November we began advising that there was likely to be a significant storm surge event affecting East Anglia, and south-east England.
  • Warnings sent to Government and emergency responders, throughout the week.
  • Met Office staff worked closely with Gold Commands in Norfolk and Suffolk.
  • Member of staff deployed at the Fire and Rescue National Flood Support Centre.
  • Four Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) meetings briefed, two chaired by the Prime Minister.
  • Customers, including Utilities, regularly briefed.
  • Media briefings prior to, and on, 9 Nov.
Forecast timeline
6 Nov Met Office forecasters started to highlight a risk of a significant storm surge in the North Sea. Environment Agency alerted.
7 Nov Strengthening north to northwest winds predicted, with speeds up to 63 mph Forecasts consistently showed surges up to 3 m, 50-90 cm above the Environment Agency alert levels in the East Anglia and Thames Estuary area.
8 Nov Peak risk forecast to be the morning high tide (between 7.30 a.m. and 10 a.m.) on 9 November, along the east-facing Norfolk and Suffolk coast (especially Great Yarmouth).
9 Nov The highest observed level was seen at Lowestoft, 0.71 m above the Environment Agency alert level.

The result

The winds were largely offshore, resulting in the waves not being as high as they could have been. At the same time the storm surge had lessened as it travelled down the coast and by early morning was 20-30 cm less than anticipated in previous days.

  • The highest observed level above the Environment Agency's alert threshold was seen at Lowestoft, 0.71 m above the alert level.
  • A number of minor floods in Norfolk and Suffolk.
  • Breach of sea defences in Suffolk.
  • No loss of life, but some damage to property.

The future

Storm surges are likely to be higher and more frequent under climate change - as early as this century. We are working on a major study of coastal flooding around the UK, which will be the most comprehensive of its type in the world. The study will use information from a range of climate models and include the effects of changes in sea level and changes in storminess. The results will help our customers in government and the business world plan for the future using risk-based projections.

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