Here comes the rain again

YOU are not alone if you feel it's been a particularly dreich start to 2008 – forecasters have confirmed that parts of Scotland have suffered twice as wet a January as usual.

As the country has squelched through the seemingly incessant rain, rivers have flooded, roads and rail lines have been blocked and football grounds left waterlogged.

The Met Office said 233.2mm (9.3in) of rain had fallen in Scotland in January up to Sunday – one-and-a-half times the average, making it the ninth-wettest since records began in 1914.

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However, some areas have fared even worse, with the normally drier eastern half of the Central Belt seeing the largest increase. Edinburgh and Midlothian experienced 234 per cent of their normal January rainfall of 93.8mm (3.8in), while West Lothian received 232 per cent of its average.

By contrast, the north of Scotland was only one-third wetter than usual in January.

A spokeswoman for the Met Office said: "There have been an awful lot of low-pressure systems from the Atlantic coming in over the country, one after another. Normally, we would expect some dry days in between, but that has not happened this month."

The effects have been widespread and all too vivid for many travellers.

Flooding and landslides have closed roads and rail routes, such as the line between Perth and Pitlochry, which reopened on Monday after three days. It was flooded after the Pitlochry dam on the River Tummel had to be opened because of a huge build-up of water.

Sporting fixtures which have been hit included several football matches last weekend, while last night's CIS Insurance Cup semi-final between Aberdeen and Dundee United was called off due to a waterlogged pitch at Tynecastle in Edinburgh. The threat of further rain prompted the match cancellation.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said there had already been 69 severe flood warnings this month, compared with just 13 a year ago.

There were nine such alerts in force at the weekend, including on the rivers Tay, Spey, Earn, Tummel, Isla and Teith.

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However, there is no silver lining yet to the rain clouds and the outlook remains grim, according to forecasters.

Sepa said just one flood watch remained in force last night, for the upper Tay, but it warned of heavy rain tonight and tomorrow morning, "which may result in further flooding problems".

The rain is expected to be concentrated in the western half of Scotland today, and it will become increasingly windy."

The Met Office spokeswoman said: "It will remain unsettled, with much colder temperatures on Friday and Saturday and frequent snow showers in northern Scotland.

"We should expect more of the same until at least the middle of February."

No-one, it seems, has escaped the deluge but some have been hit harder than others. Here, we speak to some of those hoping for clearer skies.


KEITH Miller looks at the sky with dread as he gets up every morning – because black clouds can mean only more trouble ahead for him.

Network Rail's "Mr Fixit" in Scotland finds himself up to his knees in water – or mud – every time the heavens open and rain blocks tracks by causing flooding or landslides.

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The firm's civil engineering project manager said this had been the worst January for 20 years.

He said: "It has just been constant – water is getting into places it never has before and the ground is saturated."

Since New Year, Mr Miller and his teams of specialists have had to contend with three significant landslips and as many serious floods, which have shut lines in Glasgow, Dunbartonshire, Dumfries, Dunblane and near Pitlochry, some for up to five days.

He said: "They always seem to happen late at night, and I have been on the phone until 2:30am trying to pull strings and get people out of bed.

"It's usually all hands to the pumps, but liaising with everyone affected by an incident takes a huge amount of time.

"The control room keeps asking when we are going to get trains running again – and I have to tell them it probably won't be for several days."


A QUICK glance at the league table suggests the players and coaches of Loanhead Boys Club Under-17s have scant reason to grumble.

Eleven games into their season, the side sit proudly at the summit of the South East Region Youth Football League. But as any self-respecting manager will tell you, the key to success is form.

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Unfortunately, the squalls of rain which have battered the east coast have rendered consistency an impossibility for the side and their rivals.

In fact, while Loanhead have played 11 games, the fixture lists in the league are in chaos due to weather disruption, with some sides having played little more than half that number.

Robert Elliot, Loanhead's U-17 coach, bemoans the weather conditions which have not allowed his Midlothian team to play a game since before Christmas.

"We play on a council park, and it's just been waterlogged constantly due to the rain," said Mr Elliot. "It's very frustrating for me and the boys. They want to play week in, week out, but the weather makes it difficult. We want to keep the momentum going, but it's not easy.

"I've got my fingers crossed things will pick up, but the weather forecast isn't looking good for the weekend."


AS FAR as Graeme Stear is concerned, the wet weather is more than welcome to linger for the weeks and months ahead.

A regular angler at the Ballencrieff Fishery near Bathgate, West Lothian, he attributes his bountiful catch of rainbow trout and brown trout for January to the endless squalls of rain.

"It's a funny old game, fly-fishing," he admits. "Some people only like to fish in the fair weather, but I prefer going out in the wild rain. I'm getting my catches no problem."

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The reason for his success, Mr Stear, 33, believes, is not just that fewer people are inclined to stand on the banks in miserable climes, but that the fish rise to the water's surface to feed on insects knocked down by the heavy rain into the reservoir. The temperature of the water, too, is cooler, encouraging fish out of deep pockets in the beds.

"The rain increases your catches. I've been casting off this afternoon and getting bites," he added.

"As long as the wind stays away, it's good. When those gusts get up, it's a recipe for disaster when you cast, you don't catch anything. So if it's calm and wet for a few weeks to come, I'll be a happy man.

"There's a caf at the fishery, so I don't have to stay out in the rain all day."


WET weather leaves AA patrolman Bob Pentland unperturbed, such are the rewards of getting stranded drivers back on their way.

Edinburgh-based Mr Pentland said his job satisfaction derived from being able to rescue motorists from the worst that this month's weather has thrown at them.

This has involved everything from wading in to tow vehicles from floods to having to pull them out of the mud on verges after they have skidded off roads.

Mr Pentland said the main rain-related problem had been motorists driving through too-deep water, which had seized engines or damaged electrical systems.

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Broken wipers have been another big issue during a "hectic" January.

The breakdown specialist, who has been with the AA for ten years, said: "I love it when someone is able to drive away. It's really good – you cannot beat it.

"Sometimes on a ten-hour shift the weather doesn't relent all day. You get wet first thing in the morning and that's you until night-time, but you are too busy for it to bother you that much.

"The rain is not a problem. I just think that summer time will come along and the rain will be warmer."


MONSOON-LIKE downpours have been a new weather phenomenon Patrick Lambert has had to contend with this month on the farms he runs in north-east Fife.

The general manager of CG Greig Farms, who is based at Gateside, said January had been the wettest there for 15 years, with 10in of rain having fallen so far.

Mr Lambert said the first month of the year was usually the wettest, but the sheer intensity of the rainfall over the last few weeks had not been experienced before.

He said: "We are happier to get rain in January than at harvest time or at other times of the year, so it is not a disaster. However, the rain has been tropical, with a lot falling in short periods which is more typical of Africa or India.

"We are getting huge downpours over two or three hours.

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"The problem is that the ground cannot take it and water runs off through gates and on to roads, taking some of the soil with it."

Mr Lambert said other impacts had been the increased cost of having to house animals in sheds for longer as the rain persisted.

But he added: "Farmers are pretty resilient – you expect the worst, so if you get a nice month it's a bonus."


RISING floodwater last week ensured Ian Rideout and his band of volunteers and staff had little time to relax.

Mr Rideout, an operations director for the Red Cross, received a call-out to help a farmer and four colleagues trying to save five cattle trapped on high ground in the middle of a flooded field, close to the River Beauly.

So, with an 11-strong team, and the help of the local Coastguard, the Red Cross rushed to assist with two boats. The scene they found at Cannich, near Inverness, was grim – so rapidly had the water risen, the farmer had already lost a tractor.

"For these men, the livestock represents their livelihood and they had already put themselves in considerable danger," said Mr Rideout.

The Red Cross used long poles to calculate the depth of water and charted a route through which the cattle could swim around 100ft to safety.

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"The current was very strong and it was touch and go for a while," Mr Rideout recalled. "The farmers were so pleased."

Before the day's end, Mr Rideout's team had to rescue 50 sheep in a similar fashion, before coming to the aid of a woman who had become trapped in her Jeep by the rising water levels.