A washed-out April... but we still need five more months of rain!

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Two days before the hosepipe ban was brought into force on April 5 it began to rain and it hasn’t really stopped since.

Sunday’s prolonged heavy rain sparked flash floods and more than 1,000 people had to be evacuated from Billing Aquadrome caravan park due to the threat of flooding.

This weekend’s Rushden Cavalcade has been cancelled due to the weather and the county’s fire service has received several weather-related calls over the past few days.

On Sunday firefighters were called to a flooded dairy in Spratton and had to free someone from a water-logged car in Long Buckby, and on Monday they responded to reports of a flooded cellar in Wellingborough and to a pony stuck in water near Irthlingborough.

Yet the drought continues. The hosepipe ban remains in place and a Government minister warned yesterday we could see standpipes in the street if we have another dry winter this year.

So how can we be having so much rain, yet still be in the midst of a water shortage?

The answer is that it will take more than a rainy April to make up for the lack of rainfall we’ve had over the past 18 months.

Reservoir levels are alarmingly low and we need a much more prolonged period of rain – about five months of it – to bring water levels back to where they need to be.

A Pitsford Weather Station spokesman said: “April may have been a wet month in Northampton, with rain falling on 22 days, but it was not the wettest April on record.

“A total of 128mm was recorded over the month, but the wettest April coincided with Easter floods in 1998. Then a total of 163.4mm was recorded.

“However, rainfall this April was nearly two-and-a-half times the amount we would normally receive. Despite the wet April, we would still need a further five months of above average rainfall to replenish the groundwater store and end the current drought.”

The wet April that marked the start of this drought is at odds with the heatwave people associate with the drought of 1976.

Both were as a result of months of dry weather, but in 1976 we saw a famously cloudless summer when the UK baked in temperatures of 32C (90F) or above.

It was such a severe dry spell that crowds cheered at Lord’s when a few drops of rain stopped play for a quarter of an hour in mid-June.

It remains to be seen whether the drought of 2012 will bring with it a scorcher of a summer, but Anglian Water says what we really need is more rain.

A spokesman for the county’s water authority said: “The heavy rainfall over the weekend has been very welcome and allowed us to take more water from the River Nene to increase levels at Pitsford Reservoir.

“We have made the most of the opportunity and levels in the reservoir increased more than five per cent over the weekend to around 76 per cent.

“Nevertheless, this is still well below where we would want and expect to be coming into the summer, mainly because levels were so low at the end of the winter.

“At the start of the month our target for Pitsford was 90 per cent, while the actual level was closer to 62 per cent. Although levels have now increased to 76 per cent, the target level has also risen as we would expect the reservoir to be about 96 per cent full at the end of April.

“Although April has been very wet, with as much as three times the average rainfall in places, it has not yet made a significant impact on groundwaters.

“We may have had the wettest April on record but it follows the driest March since 1953, at the end of the driest 18 months in a century.

“The irony of having a hosepipe ban in place while it’s throwing it down isn’t lost on us. This rainfall is helpful because it dissuades people from watering their plants and washing their cars, so it does suppress demand for water. It’s going to have refilled everyone’s water butts, too.

“However, it won’t fundamentally change the underlying situation, or ‘fix’ the drought, unless it persists for many more weeks, if not months.

“We would ask people to remember how dry it has been over the last two years, and still do what they can to save water. When the rain stops and things warm up in summer we expect demand for water to rise, and we’re going to need to do all we can to conserve the water that is in the environment.”