Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
17 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 17 Dec 2014

A century of sea level data and the UK's 2013/14 storm surges: an assessment of extremes and clustering using the Newlyn tide gauge record

M. P. Wadey, I. D. Haigh, and J. M. Brown

Abstract. For the UK's longest and most complete sea level record (Newlyn), we assess extreme high waters and their temporal clustering; prompted by the 2013/2014 winter of storms and flooding. These are set into context against this almost 100-year record. We define annual periods for which storm activity and high sea levels can be compared on a year-by-year basis. Amongst the storms and high tides which affected Newlyn, the recent winter produced the largest recorded high water level (3 February 2014) and five other high water events above a 1 in 1-year return period. The large magnitude of tide and mean sea level, and the close inter-event spacings (of large return period high waters), suggests that the 2013/2014 extreme high water level "season" can be considered the most extreme on record. However, storm and sea level events may be classified in different ways. For example, in the context of sea level rise (which we calculate linearly as 1.81 ± 0.1 mm yr−1 from records between 1915 to 2014), a lower probability combination of surge and tide occurred on 29 January 1948, whilst the 1995/1996 storm surge season saw the most high waters of ≥ the 1 in 1-year return period. We provide a basic categorisation of the four types of extreme high water level cluster, ranging from consecutive tidal cycles to multiple years. The assessment is extended to other UK sites (with shorter sea level records and different tide-surge characteristics), which suggests 2013/2014 was particularly unusual. Further work will assess clustering mechanisms and flood system "memory".