YORKSHIRE has been told to expect a triple threat from the elements, with warnings in place for heavy rainfall, gale-force winds and snow.
Heavy rain, hill snow and gales are forecast to hit the county this afternoon and overnight, while nationally, more than 1,000 homes have been evacuated in the Thames Valley and the West Country, and others have been left without electricity.
The military has come to the aid of the most vulnerable, with transport links disrupted and whole streets cut off as flood water rises to waist level in the worst-affected areas.
Many reported some minor respite yesterday, as days of heavy rain gave way to clear skies.
And the Environment Agency (EA) confirmed it had suspended plans to axe hundreds of jobs, in the wake of the flooding crisis.
The agency’s chief executive Paul Leinster emailed staff saying: “We are reviewing the timetable for the change programme... We will not be seeking any further engagement with staff on ways of working during this period and will not be entering into any formal consultation arrangements.”
It comes as the Met Office has predicted a return to the worst of the winter weather over the next 24 hours, with almost every pocket of the UK experiencing downpours, winds or snow, much of it falling on already-saturated ground.
The Environment Agency has around 400 warnings in place - including 17 severe flood warnings, which identify a risk to life.
Charles Powell, meteorologist with the Met Office, said: “It’s going to be bad, no question about it.
“There will be a big band of rain starting in the South West and moving up, some strong winds of up to 80mph in some exposed areas of the south coast, and even snowfall predicted. The only thing we haven’t got is the fog.”
He said up to 40mm (1.6ins) of rain could fall in the South West today, before it heads north towards Scotland.
He said few places would get through to tomorrow afternoon without experiencing poor weather.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he is “very sorry” for the suffering caused by the extreme weather afflicting large swathes of the country.
Visiting Blackpool in Lancashire to view relief efforts, Mr Cameron told ITV1’s Daybreak: “People need to be reassured that we will do whatever it takes to help people during this very difficult time.”
Asked whether he would repeat Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’s apology for the Government’s early response to the crisis, Mr Cameron said: “Of course I am very sorry for any way that people have suffered.”
Mr Cameron said the Government’s Cobra emergency committee met before Christmas to deal with the impact of the tidal surge on the east coast and soon after then as the Somerset Levels were flooded.
“Obviously, we are facing a very difficult time because we have got the wettest start to the year for 250 years and these are extraordinary weather events, but we are fighting on every front to help people,” he said.
“We have deployed the military, we have got thousands of sandbags being put around people’s houses, over 300,000 people had their electricity reconnected last night. If you look at the state of our flood defences, over 1.3 million homes have been protected by the flood defences that are in place.
“We are making sure that today, before the next rise in the level of the Thames over the weekend, we do everything we can to protect more homes and protect more communities.”
Mr Cameron acknowledged that the extreme weather will have an impact on the UK’s economy as it recovers from the downturn.
Asked if the floods could push Britain back into recession, the Prime Minister told Daybreak: “Obviously, the weather will have an effect on what is happening in our economy.
“But I want businesses to know that the Government is standing behind them.”
Mr Cameron repeated his pledge that “money is no object” in the relief effort.
“We will reimburse 100% of the spending (councils) have to take to protect people,” he said.
“I think it is very important that this message gets out: in this relief effort, we will spend what is necessary.”
The Environment Agency said yesterday that it expects hundreds more properties to be threatened by flooding.
At its height, hundreds of thousands of homes were left without power after gusts of up to 108mph battered parts of the country in the “Wild Wednesday” storms, which left one man dead and hundreds stranded as transport networks were hit.
In the highlands of Wales, northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the rain could turn to snow, with 5cm to 10cm (2-4 ins) falling above 300 metres (1,000ft) and perhaps as much as 20cm (8ins) above 400 metres (1,300ft).
Windsor, Maidenhead and communities along the Thames in Surrey remain at high risk of flooding from the River Thames, with significant flooding of homes and businesses expected.
Flooding continues on the Somerset Levels and Moors, and there is still a high risk of coastal floods in Dorset.
The EA’s Mr Leinster said: “We ask people to remain vigilant and take action where necessary. We expect to see river levels rising again with more rain forecast for Friday and Saturday.”
Since early December, 5,800 properties have been flooded across the country, with high winds causing further problems yesterday.
Environment Agency regional director Howard Davidson denied that measures to protect urban areas from floods had shifted the problem on to people in the countryside.
Mr Davidson said: “The continued investment programme by ourselves and our predecessors is protecting millions of people from flooding. Whenever we design a scheme, we make sure we do not compromise anybody else’s position.”
Matt Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, who is visiting flood-hit areas in the South West, said firefighters were reporting shortages of manpower and equipment because of spending cuts.
He said: “Wherever there’s a flood firefighters are doing a fantastic job helping to keep people safe and reduce the damage done to local communities.
“But our members are reporting that cuts to fire and rescue services are making it very difficult to cope with the demands of such extreme weather.
“Shortages of both people and equipment are proving real problems, with some fire services refusing requests to send equipment elsewhere in case it is needed in their own areas.
“Despite incredible claims that money is no object, fire and rescue services urgently need more resources to cope with such challenging conditions.”
Leading economist and climate expert Lord Stern has said the record rainfall and storm surges the UK had experienced were a “clear sign” the country was already experiencing the impacts of climate change.
“A warmer atmosphere holds more water. Add to this the increase in sea level, particularly along the English Channel, which is making storm surges bigger, and it is clear why the risk of flooding in the UK is rising,” he wrote in the Guardian newspaper.
Climate impacts were being felt around the world, from record-breaking temperatures in Australia to floods and landslides in Brazil following record rainfall and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Lord Stern said.
“This is a pattern of global change it would be very unwise to ignore,” he argued, adding that the risks could only be sensibly managed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions - which would require a new low-carbon industrial revolution.
The UK must continue to set an example to other countries, and weakening the flagship Climate Change Act would be a great mistake, he said.
“Squabbling and inconsistent messages from ministers” and uncertainty about future policies were already eroding the confidence of businesses in driving forward clean technology.
And the Government needed to make the country more resilient to the impacts of climate change, but must also resist calls to cut overseas aid to fund it, he said, as it would be “deeply immoral” to penalise the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty around the world.
A strong price on greenhouse gas pollution would be a more sensible way to raise money, the chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) said.
The Environment Agency’s staff, emergency services and local authorities deserve “full support and admiration” for their work to tackle the floods and bad weather, the South West Regional Flood and Coastal Committee said.
The committee, made up of representatives from Devon, Cornwall and Portsmouth, Torbay and the Isles of Scilly councils, and experts in water and flood management appointed by the Environment Agency, expressed sympathy for everyone in Devon and Cornwall who had been flooded in recent weeks.
The committee, through which the EA performs its role in tackling flood and coastal erosion in the South West, insisted: “We make our decisions where to invest in new flood defences on firm evidence and tested science, and do so within Treasury rules about the use of public money.
“We welcome the extra money, which has now been allocated to flood defence nationally. This will make it possible to keep many homes and properties safe from floods in the future.”
EA staff in Devon and Cornwall work “around the clock to provide timely warnings, repair coastal flood defences and clear debris from rivers to keep them flowing”, the committee said in an open letter to the people of Devon and Cornwall.