Leeds City Council has provided an update on the known impacts of Storm Babet, which brought strong winds and heavy rainfall between October 19 and 21, 2023.
The Met Office issued yellow and amber alerts for rainfall during the storm. The extensive rainfall led to a peak river level of 3.64m at the Armley gauge on the river Aire. This is approximately 0.9m above the usual range but lower than levels recorded in previous events such as storm Ciara in 2020, or storms Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin in 2022.
Various services of Leeds City Council, including flood risk management, resilience and emergencies, and highways, collaborated with partners from the Environment Agency to implement plans as soon as the storm was forecasted. Throughout the event, they worked alongside emergency services like West Yorkshire Police and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, as well as community groups, flood wardens, and Network Rail to monitor and respond to ensure people’s safety.
Fortunately, due to this preparedness and collective effort, only a small number of flooding incidents were recorded during the storm, all of which are currently being addressed by the council’s flooding investigations team.
On the afternoon of October 20, river levels on the Aire necessitated the activation of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS). The moveable weirs at Crown Point and Knostrop were lowered to increase capacity in the channel, effectively safeguarding the city centre from flooding. In the graph below, you can observe the impact of operating the Leeds FAS on river levels at the Knostrop weir gauge, temporarily lowering levels to prevent potential flooding, then gradually raising them back up once the peak had passed safely.
This marks the ninth occasion that the £50 million scheme has been put into operation since its completion in 2017.
Phase 2 of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme is currently under construction and will not offer its full level of protection until it is completed in spring 2024. Despite not yet realizing the scheme’s full benefits, there have been instances where it has already proven effective in specific areas, such as the newly installed flood walls effectively shielding the Kirkstall Bridge Inn as intended.
Since flood defense construction is ongoing, there are many construction sites near the river and in flood-prone areas. In the lead-up to the storm, site operatives from our contractor partners ensured that equipment and materials were either moved or securely stored, including securing a pontoon to the riverbed following risk assessments and taking into account the detailed forecast from the Environment Agency.
Despite this, a small number of construction sites have been affected. Council officers and our construction partners are already working diligently to resume work on the scheme, which will provide protection for an additional 1,048 homes and 474 businesses, as well as doubling the level of protection for the city centre.
Councillor Helen Hayden, Leeds City Council’s executive member for sustainable development and infrastructure, said:
“Our sympathies go out to those who were impacted by Storm Babet across the United Kingdom. Whilst we are fortunate that Leeds did not feel the effects as fiercely as other areas, some of us across the city did experience flooding, and we are working with communities to support them in their recovery.
“In Leeds, we have invested significantly in flood alleviation schemes to ensure that weather events at this level, and much worse, can be handled with minimum impact on our infrastructure, businesses, and communities. This is the third significant weather event to hit our region in the last five years, and further evidence that interventions like the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme are necessary to ensure that we are resilient to the climate emergency now and in the future.
“Thank you to everyone who worked diligently over the weekend to keep us all safe, and to those who are continuing to improve our resilience to severe weather across Leeds. There is a huge amount of time that people give up when it comes to flood management, often on short notice and unsociable hours, that the public never see. That work is so important, and I would really like to stress my personal thanks to all involved”
Flooding impacts many within our communities, and there are steps we can all take to prepare and ensure our safety:
Avoid attempting to travel through floodwater, whether on foot, in a vehicle, or otherwise.
Develop a flood plan for your home or business using the template provided by the Environment Agency.
Sign up for free flood alerts in your area on gov.uk.
Familiarise yourself with the different types of flood warnings and understand what they mean for your home or travel plans.