Flood and extreme weather fatalities in the UK

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis seeks to contribute to the body of knowledge about the most significant impacts of natural hazards – loss of human lives. There is a lack of research addressing deaths in less extreme, but still significant, events, such as surface water flooding in the UK, where there is no comprehensive list describing who died, where, how, and – crucially – why. Protecting lives and livelihoods is a key objective for flood risk management in the UK, but it is not clear which lives need protecting and from which risks. 
To address this knowledge gap this project compiled, for the first time, a comprehensive list of flood casualties, as well as deaths from other extreme weather events in the UK, for the 15 year period 2000 – 2014. Newspaper reports were used as source data, using the LexisNexis® database of UK publications to select newspaper reports on flood and extreme weather casualties. Fatalities are rare enough and extreme enough to warrant a detailed and abundant interest from the media; these stories become a very rich source of data. 
The compiled fatality dataset improves upon all other sources of hazard impact data, even though overall hazard fatality totals and rates in the UK are very low. A meteorological time series compares rainfall intensity at the time of flood fatality to show that lower hazard magnitudes also lead to fatal outcomes. Some trends in the geographical distribution of flood fatalities is identified, although no rural-urban or population density relationship is found. The most telling explanations of fatality trends arise from examining gender, age, and activity or behaviour at the time of death in severe weather. Further insights are drawn from exploring flood and extreme weather warning systems in the UK in terms of their effectiveness in predicting events which caused fatalities. 
The low number of fatalities form weather hazards in the UK is a testament to the success of risk mitigation and reduction policies. However, many of the residual fatal impacts could have also been avoided. There are several compounding variables which cause the low but significant number of flood and extreme weather fatalities in the UK. One which stands out is the behavioural dimension of vulnerability, evident in the victims’ response at the time of the hazard impact. Conclusions are drawn for risk conceptualisation, vulnerability theory, extreme weather warnings, and potential communication strategies, which may have policy implications.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDavid Demeritt (Supervisor) & Bruce Malamud (Supervisor)

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