The Lynmouth Disaster
50 years on
by Philip Eden
The recent torrential downpours have emphasised how powerful and destructive rainstorms can be, even in our equable climate. Occasionally, though, storms of truly tropical intensity strike, and the havoc which follows is all the more distressing and bewildering because of their rarity.
Heavy rain fell over the entire southwest peninsula as well as other parts of southern England, Wales, and the Midlands. But it was Exmoor that bore the brunt of the s torm with a fall of 229mm of rain spread over 22 hours recorded at Longstone Barrow, overlooking the headwaters of the West Lyn river. The subsequent Met Office report suggested that a little further east, in the vicinity of Simonsbath, as much as 300mm may have fallen - almost four months' worth of rain in 24 hours.
Could it happen again? Well, it happened before. Destructive floods following rainstorms of similar magnitude had wreaked havoc in Lynmouth in 1607 and 1769, and in July 1969 fears were raised of a new flood following a two-day downpour. Meteorologically it is virtually certain that a storm of similar proportions to that of 1952 will occur over Exmoor sooner or later. With warmer seas off our coasts - a consequence of global warming - it will probably be sooner rather than later. Nowadays its intensity would be predicted with some accuracy and warnings would be disseminated in good time, while the flood mitigation scheme devised after the flood of '52 should reduce the likelihood of catastrophic damage.