On rain: “It covers the flat roof of the cabin and porch with insistent and controlled rhythms. And I listen, because it reminds me again and again that the whole world turns by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognise, rhythms that are not those of the engineer”
– Thomas Merton
How we talk about rain is very important I think. I explained a bit about how language shapes our views and rain does not fare well in this. As a society we equate rain with some sort of terrible thing which is happening to us personally to make our day go badly. We attempt to avoid the rain, hurrying under umbrellas from building to building and cursing if our feet get wet. How much stress would we save ourselves if we accepted the rain and were thankful for the good that it does.
“Of course, the festival of rain cannot be stopped, even in the city… the streets, suddenly washed, became transparent and alive and the noise of traffic becomes a plashing of fountains. One would think that the urban man in a rainstorm would have to take account of nature in its wetness and freshness , it’s baptism and its renewal.”
– Thomas Merton
Having said all of that, I am not a fan of the rain. Rain means I have to wear my wheelchair waterproof if I want to leave my flat. This means I have to have someone with me to get it on and off as I can’t do that myself. It also makes it hard to go into shops etc as it makes me take up a lot more space, it’s not easy to get on and off and my hand is under a cover so the controller does get wet. This means I only have my left hand available and if I want to check my phone or pay for anything I have to scrabble around underneath the waterproof with my left arm which is covered in droplets of water. So despite all the effort I have to go to, I still get a bit wet. And I can’t go out on my own. And I can’t go out on my own if there’s a high chance of rain and I’m not going to be near any helpful strangers. NB, not all strangers are happy to help, I’ve had people say no when I’ve asked politely if they could help me out of my waterproof.
So, my feeling about rain feels justified. The lack of appropriate aids makes the rain quite debilitating. But for most people this isn’t the case.
The power of rain
Despite everything I’ve just said about rain not being evil, it is immensely powerful. It wears down rocks and soil into tiny fragments over time. It plays a key role in dissolving certain rocks and it causes devastation and destruction in the form of floods.
It is floods that I’m going to focus on here. I live in York, a city prone to flooding. It floods every year, normally several times and sometimes quite severely. You might have seen news coverage a few years back of David Cameron standing in flood water, that was at the end of my street. Aside, don’t stand in flood water, it can be dangerous, it can have stronger currents than you think and be deeper than you think…
There are two rivers which run through the centre of York, the river Ouse and the Foss which converge in the city. The Ouse is the principal drainage basin in Yorkshire and is formed by the Ouse Gill Beck and the River Ure, Swale and Nid as well as a number of tributaries. Interesting aside, until 1757 the Ouse was a tidal river. The River Foss originates in the Howardian Hills, north of the city. York’s floods tend to occur because of heavy rainfall and/or melting snow up river.
We know that York has experienced devastating flooding with records going back to 1263 AD. Notable floods occurred in 1947, 1948, 1982 and 2000. More recently, there were serious floods in 2007 and 2012 as well as the 2015 floods.
Whilst there are many measures in place to reduce the impact of floods in York, it is not a problem that is going to go away. Lets face it, we’ve had almost a millennia to figure out options!
Forgive the image quality, this was 2007… Trees standing in water is a common sight in York.
But why does York flood so much? Well, it turns out this seems to be on the GCSE Geography curriculum based on my google search! It’s obviously a multifaceted answer:
Firstly, York is a vale and the Yorkshire Dales to the east are steep which means fast runoff from the slopes into the rivers. It also means less water infiltrates the soil as there simply isn’t time for it to be absorbed.
Secondly, this problem is exacerbated by the impermeable clay which means water can’t soak into the ground. As well as clay, the Dales are also made up of limestone which is very permeable and allows the water to pass through very quickly. Combining this with the first reason basically means there is nowhere for the rain or snow to go other than down into the river.
Thirdly, at higher altitudes vegetation tends to be heather and moorland which doesn’t soak up much of the water or slow it down very much. Another factor which means more water in the river. There are some trees in the area which do intercept the water but deciduous trees only do this when they have leaves, and the worst of the floods tends to be in winter.
Human impact has a role to play as well. Use of land for arable farming means less plant life to suck up the water, deforestation means less trees to do the same and urban developments also play a role. Tarmacked roads, housing estates and shopping centres all mean water has less chance of being absorbed into the ground so instead it makes it into sewers, drains and ultimately the river.
Climate change is also playing a role in York floods. We are experiencing wetter winters which of course means more water in the river which means there is less space for additional rain water.
But whilst the floods in York cause a lot of damage which involves a lot of money to sort out, they don’t tend to cause much in the way of injury and death. Many other parts of the world are not so lucky…
And that is a topic for another day…