Weather is a repeat of change that led to Lynmouth disaster
A series of devastatingly wet summers is repeating a pattern of poor weather which laid waste to a Westcountry community half a century ago, scientists have found.
The last time the UK saw a shift in climate to mild, wet summers coincided with the destruction of the North Devon town of Lynmouth, when cascading water destroyed homes, washed away cars and claimed the lives of 34 people in 1952.
A new study claims the torrential summers of recent years are part of a change in climate which began in the mid 1990s and could be due to substantial warming of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Researchers have warned that the wet spell, which also produced serious flooding at Boscastle in Cornwall, could last for years or end quickly.
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Officials say climate change has now become a significant factor in designing flood defences and they claim disasters such as Lynmouth, where a swollen river sent a wall of water surging down from Exmoor, were much less likely.
Mike Dunning, of the Environment Agency, said weather patterns continued to "keep people guessing" with this year's drought becoming the wettest year in a century.
"We are much more geared up and aware of flood risk than the poor people of Lynmouth," he added.
"They were hit out of the blue and had no inkling that they were going to be washed away.
"Lynmouth has seen an engineering solution, widening the channel to reduce the flow and measures to allow it to drain away.
"But climate change is a science we are still understanding and is going to be a challenge, particularly as money for schemes is limited."
As part of the new research, published online in Nature Geoscience, researchers compared three periods in this cycle – a warm period between 1931 and 1960, a cool period from 1961 to 1990 and the most recent warm state starting in the 1990s.
The patterns of European climate change in the 1990s were similar to earlier changes attributed to the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean, the study found.
The last warm phase between 1931 and 1960 brought a string of wet summers.
Authors Rowan Sutton and Buwen Dong, of the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science, at the University of Reading, said the current pattern of wet summers may be expected to continue as long as the present warm phase persists.
But they added that it was uncertain how long this period would be.
It could persist or end in two to three years' time, they said.