‘Spring tide’ is to blame for risks

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Twenty-foot rescue boats were seen on standby in the streets of Belfast yesterday, as firefighters and coastguard units were on standby.

One of those standing at the ready in the Sydenham area was Gareth Morrison, divisional operations manager with the RNLI, who explained why the British Isles seem to be facing such extreme conditions.

The reason is something called a “spring tide” – which actually has nothing to do with the season.

Rather, a high tide is simply known as a “spring”, and a low one as a “neap”.

Right now, the monthly high tide cycle and annual high tide cycle happen to have coincided.

He said that, in combination with high winds and low atmospheric pressure pushing down on the sea, this has led to seriously high waters.

According to Mr Morrison, a high tide reading in Belfast would be around 3.7m normally (12ft) – but that in the recent surge it rose about 1m (3.28ft) higher than that, testing flood defences to their limit.

“The risk is very real, and will exist to be honest for a couple of days as well,” he said.

Mr Morrison also said that additional crew had been brought in from as far way as the Isle of Man to assist them.

Alan Walmsley, area commander for the fire brigade, was asked if there was a fatal risk in the area if Sydenham’s Connswater River did burst.

“Obviously it could be. The big risk is for vulnerable people,” he said. “There’s always that threat to life – that’s why we treat it so seriously.”

He also said that they had undergone an exercise called Eluvies II, which had mirrored virtually the exact same scenario as the one they were now dealing with, just six weeks beforehand.