Did global warming lead to flooding? The experts say Yes

HOMES evacuated, train lines cut, roads under water, rivers at dangerously high levels. Scotland was still struggling last night to deal with the aftermath of massive downpours which have drenched the country.

But environmentalists warned last night that, far from being a freak occurrence, the sight of flooded fields and firefighters carrying families to safety from their flooded homes were likely to be repeated in winters to come.

Ministers pledged to look at flood defences again in light of the extreme weather.

Fifty-three flood warnings were in force across Scotland last night after a 24 hour period which saw people rescued from towns in Perthshire and in Stirling.

Council staff in Stirling were forced to work through the night to deal with what they described as the worst weather in 40 years.

The Riverside area of the town was worst hit with around 60 homes and flats needing to be evacuated and the occupants put up in temporary accommodation. A total of 12 schools were closed and 17 roads shut.

In Perthshire, 15 families were evacuated from their homes in the village of Milnathort, near Kinross, on Wednesday night as a burn burst its banks, flooding some homes with two feet of water and plunging many others into darkness as an electricity sub-station was flooded.

Fife Police said there had been some localised flooding in the region, with the village of Strathmiglo in East Fife particularly badly affected, although no houses were damaged.

Scotland's railways suffered their worst disruption for years, with officials saying two of the three railway lines between the central belt and the north could be closed for up to three weeks.

Landslips and flooding at several sites hit the Perth-Inverness and Glasgow-Fort William/Oban railway lines, which are used by thousands of passengers every day.

Dozens of roads were also closed across Scotland as a result of the heavy rain, which reached four inches in some places on Wednesday night.

The A82 near Spean Bridge was shut due to a landslip, and rail and bus services were also hit by the weather. Police forces across the country warned motorists not to travel unless essential.

The West of Scotland was hit by almost three inches of rain in 24 hours, while many parts of the country were afflicted by floods and 50mph winds brought further misery.

Between 6am on Wednesday and 6am yesterday, 70.4mm of rain fell on Glasgow, according to a Met Office spokesman, the same amount as for all of December last year.

It has now rained every day since the start of November.

The severity of the flood at Milnathort - which only this year had a 500,000 flood barrier installed - raised the question of whether changing weather patterns now undermined the use of traditional defences.

Rhona Brankin, the deputy environment minister, pledged an investigation into what had happened at Milnathort, with its new reinforced concrete walls lining a burn running through the town.

Mrs Brankin said: "This was designed with climate change in mind but clearly we will have to think about how climate change will affect such schemes in future."

Richard Dixon, from WWF Scotland, said: "This is certainly part of a long-term changing picture. We often have floods at this time of the year, but they are starting to become more common and more intense.

"There are specific climate change predictions for Scotland which say that not only will it get warmer, it will also get wetter.

"It will be wetter in the winter, and that will certainly lead to more flooding. It is certainly part of the trend we expect and this winter we are going into now is probably the kind of winter we will see on average."

Scotland's weather woes came after figures showed that 2006 was on course to be one the warmest years ever in England.

The Met Office said this year's average temperature - 10.84 Celsius (51.51 Fahrenheit) - was likely to be the highest in 347 years, since record-keeping began. The second hottest were 1990 and 1999, when the average temperature was 10.63 Celsius (51.13 Fahrenheit).

Figures for central England date back to 1659 and are thought to be the world's oldest series of temperature records. While Britain's national records date back only to 1914, temperature changes for Britain typically mirror the trend in England.

Britain has already seen a series of temperature records broken this year. July was the hottest month ever recorded, with an average temperature of 19.7 Celsius (67.46 Fahrenheit). The autumn was also Britain's mildest.

The temperatures support research that shows trends between human behaviour and global warming, according to David Parker, a Met Office climate scientist.



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