Saturday, 29 September 2012

Deluged by the unusual

On 28th June I spent two hours wading home through Newcastle. I was lucky, I was walking. All I had to do was mind my footing as I waded through the log jams of cars marooned in the rising waters. A thunderstorm, fronted by a black wall from horizon to horizon and rippling with lightening bolts to rival those of John Martin, Tyneside's great painter of apocalypse, had brought the city to halt. Video of a lightning strike on the Tyne Bridge or shaky phone footage of shoppers cowering in doorways gasping with each thunder clap is still shocking to watch. The day is now mythic: Thunder Thursday. A supercell storm was responsible, "exceptionally severe" according to the  Met Office. The Met office and Environment Agency staff are having to struggle to find new measures of exception. On the 5th August flash floods hit the city again, and yet again on the 24th September as an "unusually deep area of low pressure", "deepest since 1981" inflicted, according to Newcastle's Chronicle, £100 million of damage. The exceptional is starting to feel routine. Up at Hauxley the experimental ponds dug out in 1994 to track how the invertebrates and plants changed over time have turned out to be an insightful means of  following how variations in the weather, primarily rainfall, affect the wildlife. I had always intended to record the animals over several years but climate had not been the main focus. Research often turns out to be about something more, or something different, to what was planned. Results from recording the animals have shown major changes depending on dry or wet years, although their has been a trend of ponds drying out earlier over the years. The main challenge is more the practical difficulty of keeping a long term study going. The animals in all thirty ponds were recorded twice a year between 1995 and 2004. Ten years. That counts as a long time in research, although ten years is all too short a time compared to the Bay's history. Time is tricky thing to research, even to describe. Met Office staff are looking weary of explaining why we are having "one in a hundred year" events once a month.

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