30 January 2014
Last updated at 17:24 ET
The fire service is providing 10 extra pumps to help ease the flooding in Somerset
The environment secretary is warning of further flooding for parts of the UK, with those in affected areas urged to heed Environment Agency advice.
Speaking after a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, Owen Paterson said more rain and high tides meant there was a ‘real risk’ of coastal flooding.
The Met Office is warning of more heavy rain and high winds for much of the UK on Friday and over the weekend.
Figures show January has been the wettest on record in parts of England.
Speaking after the 15th meeting of the committee, Mr Paterson said heavy rain combined with high spring tides meant properties on the south coast were at a further risk of flooding.
“I would urge people to pay close attention to those warnings as the weekend approaches and during the weekend,” he said.
The Environment Agency warned that high tides, strong winds and large waves would bring a risk of coastal flooding, particularly in counties in the South-West.
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It said parts of south-east England and Gloucestershire, north-west England and the Yorkshire and Hull coasts would also be affected.
It has more than 30 flood warnings in place and some 160 flood alerts, with fears that heavy rain falling on already-saturated ground could cause further flooding.
The Met Office has issued an amber warning – meaning be prepared – for heavy rain on the Somerset Levels, and yellow warnings – which mean be aware – for rain across much of the south of England, Northern Ireland and Wales on Friday.
It is also warning of high winds and rain for many western parts of the UK on Saturday and Sunday.
In Wales, Aberystwyth University is set to evacuate student halls of residence on the seafront from 16:00 GMT on Friday in anticipation of stormy weather and high tides.
Earlier, military planners met council officials in Somerset over plans to bring relief to villages cut off by recent floods – after Mr Paterson said military amphibious vehicles could be deployed. The military has been put on standby to help flooded areas.
Roads round villages including Muchelney have been cut for almost a month and about 11,500 hectares (28,420 acres) of the levels are flooded by about 65 million cubic metres of water.
Somerset County Council said the military remained on standby, with needs currently being met by the fire service, which was supplying 10 additional pumps, Unimog vehicles and hovercraft.
Farmer Roger Forgan is using a boat to get to his farm which has been cut off by flood waters
Parts of Somerset have been flooded throughout January
Met Office analysts said the whole of the UK was on target for a wetter-than-average winter
Pat Flaherty, deputy chief executive of Somerset County Council, told a press conference in Taunton: “With potential for high winds and high tides and more rain passing through and falling on an already soaked catchment we have potential for further flooding over the weekend and, with that, ongoing flooding for a number of weeks to come.
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Scientists have a new phrase about the weather… global weirding.
Before this record drenching, they mention the 2012 record warm winter in the US Mid-West followed by record cold this winter; record heat in Australia when normally ocean currents would have cooled the land; and the UK’s 2012 drought cancelled out by floods.
The jury’s still out on whether humans are to blame for extreme weather.
But consider this: we have drained bogs which used to catch rain; allowed soil to run off fields and clog rivers; built homes on our flood plains and supermarkets in our countryside; we’ve almost certainly heated the climate and swelled the sea level.
Now up to 40 homes are flooded in Somerset, where high tides have hemmed in the rains. But that compares with 55,000 homes flooded across Britain in 2007. It could be worse.
Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin
“With that in mind we’re still working very closely with the military who remain in Somerset, planning with us and we also have the resilience of knowing that their equipment and personnel are ready to be mobilised should we require them.”
The military will remain on call over this weekend and in the coming weeks.
Speaking after the Cobra meeting, Mr Paterson said he was hopeful that a 20-year plan to deal with flooding in the levels would be agreed sooner than the six-week deadline he had specified.
“As soon as we’ve got a plan, I’ll be down there talking to local people,” he said.
Southern England and parts of the Midlands had already seen twice the average rainfall for January by midnight on Tuesday – with three days left in the month, the Met Office said.
Up to and including January 28, the South East and central southern England had a record 175.2mm (6.9in) of rainfall in January – beating the previous record of 158.2mm for the same parts of England set in 1988.
Across south-west England and south Wales, the 222.6 mm (8.8in) of rainfall up to midnight on Tuesday meant January 2014 was already the fifth-wettest.
For the UK as a whole, 164.6 mm (6.5in) of rain has fallen so far this month – 35% above the long-term average.
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Holding back the water
Dredging, flood barriers, natural flood management and sustainable drainage are recognised methods of preventing or alleviating flooding. BBC News looks at how these methods work and the scientific principles behind them.
But the Met Office said it had seen a contrast from south to north across the UK, with northern Scotland having received 85% of its long-term average rainfall so far this month, compared with 200% over southern England.
The UK mean temperature for the month up until 28 January was 4.9C (41F) – 1.2C above average.
Met Office analysts said the whole of the UK was on target for a wetter-than-average winter, though temperatures have been mild – 4.9C (41F) for January so far, which is 1.2C above average.
The South East and central southern England are already seeing their sixth-wettest winter since records began in 1910 and the wettest since 1995 (369.7mm of rain). The wettest winter on record was 1915, with 437.1mm of rain.
The main reason for the mild and wet weather so far was a predominance of west and south-west winds, bringing in mild air from the Atlantic, the Met Office said