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North Sea Flood (1953)

The 1953 North sea floods were the worst natural disaster in Europe in modern times. A rapidly moving low pressure system caused a strong storm surge - the largest ever recorded on the UK east coast - which killed over 2100 in the Netherlands, UK and elsewhere along the North Sea coast.

The storm led directly to the decision to construct flood defences such as the dutch deltawerken and the Uk Thames Barrier.

Meteorological history

The floods were caused by a deep low pressure system (min pressure 966Mb) which moved rapidly southeast across the North Sea, causing strong northwesterly gales. Although not an especially deep system, it moved close to the land, giving sustained winds (0ver 50 knots for 24 hours). The night of 31st January was a high spring tide, exacerbating the effects of the storm surge.

Storm Surge and Aftermath

The floods hit on the night of 31st January / 1st February 1953. In the UK, flooding was experienced over a 1000 mile stretch of coast all the way down the east coast, however the worst effects were in Essex and the Thames estuary. In some places sea levels 3m above normal were recorded; 307 people dies in southeast England, 58 in Canvey island alone. An estimated 160,000 hectares of land was flooded and over 24,000 homes destroyed. The estimated damage was around £50 million (at the time).

The damage was even worse in the Netherlands, with large parts of Zuid-Holland, Zeeland and Nord Brabant being flooded, 200,000 hectares in total. An estimated 1836 people lost their lives, mostly in Zeeland, and 100,000 more were evacuated. In Dutch this event is known as the watersnoodramp (flood disaster). 

The floods also caused deaths and significant damage in Belgium and Germany. Lives were also lost at sea during the storm.

Available Data

The 1953 storm was well before the advent of satellite measurements, however other useful data exist. 

See this paper by Wolf and Flather for a summary of and references to efforts to model the 1953 surge using available data.

Links and Resources

There are many sites available on the 1953 floods. Some of the more useful ones that we are aware of can be found at:

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