Reviewed: Havering’s 12 months of erratic weather

With 2012 officially England’s wettest year since records began, it’s easy to forget Havering spent a third of it in drought. Ramzy Alwakeel looks back at the highs and lows of 12 unsettled months.

Things began innocuously. The borough celebrated its first snow of the year in February, traditionally the coldest month – and with it came a flurry of community spirit.

Rather than waiting for the council, 30 householders in Upminster’s River Drive took matters into their own hands.

Side by side, tenants and homeowners cemented old friendships and founded new ones as they spent three hours clearing the road.

Resident Mike Jones said: “It was brilliant. It was a real sign of community spirit and it was good a chance to talk to people you’ve never spoken to before.”

And in Harrow Lodge Park, Hornchurch, children got their sledges out to make the most of the white blanket.

But normality ended there. After two dry winters, a drought was declared in the region the same month.

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“The general principle is that you expect the ground to ‘recharge’ over winter,” explained an Environment Agency spokesman.

“If it doesn’t, that’s when problems start.”

And as the year progressed it became clear the weather wasn’t going to obey any rules whatsoever.

April and June were the country’s wettest on record, punctuated by a fortnight in May that saw temperatures soar. Havering’s hosepipe ban ended in June after three months of heavy rain – but the deluge didn’t stop there.

With the ground saturated, floods swept across the borough in July, washing away road surfaces and stranding families in temporary shelters. Havering’s firefighters were called out a staggering 42 times in one day as the River Ingrebourne burst its banks and spent eight hours on its first flood warning in two years.

The McCreaths, of Rushdon Close, watched water pour into their new house because of a blocked gutter – but were told not to bother dialling 999 by housing association Estuary’s emergency helpdesk.

“We must have made about 50 phones calls and it took the housing association 13 hours to get here,” said mum Beverley.

In the end, the frantic family called the fire brigade anyway – and were glad they did.

“Without the firemen, the roof would have fallen in,” said grateful Beverley.

After the flood, summer limped on, and the skies cleared just long enough for Havering to watch the Olympic torch relay in blistering sunshine.

Fast forward to early December and the snow was back, this time only dusting the borough – but it was enough to disrupt transport.

As temperatures nosedived, bus routes were halted for hours, causing confusion and frustration for a coachload of autistic teenagers making their way to Havering College’s specialist Quarles Campus.

Mandy Moon’s 16-year-old daughter Tamara was among those told to get off the bus mid-journey. “Even though my daughter’s travel trainer said ‘this child has autism – she’s panicking’, they were just told the buses had been suspended and were going back to their yard,” said Mandy.

“We had the panic of ‘how am I getting home?’”

As the year drew to a close, the fire brigade may well have had flashbacks to those sodden call-outs in July.

With temperatures climbing back into double figures, floods again ravaged the nation, grinding transport to a halt. Wennington firefighters were called out over the holiday period to attend to stranded cars and rescue drivers.

So what does 2013 hold for our barometers and thermometers?

The picture isn’t all bleak – into the New Year, at least, temperatures are expected to stay above zero.

But after such an erratic year of weather, what happens next will be anyone’s guess.

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