What we know about the floods on the Suffolk coast and what is causing them

The storm surge that hit Southwold in December 2013. Picture: DAVID ANDREWS

The storm surge that hit Southwold in December 2013. Picture: DAVID ANDREWS - Credit: citizenside.com

Our region has been subjected to some fairly severe weather over the last 24 hours, with flooding and snow causing problems for both property owners and motorists.

The temporary flood barriers in place as Lowestoft prepares for a possible tidal surge. Picture: MAR

The temporary flood barriers in place as Lowestoft prepares for a possible tidal surge. Picture: MARK BOGGIS - Credit: Archant

See below for an explanation of why these floods are occurring, how you can find out if your home is at risk and some advice from police for those leaving for rest centres.

But first here is a list of the high tide times today and a timeline of everything which has happened so far and is predicted to take place over the coming days.

High tides for Suffolk and Essex today and tomorrow

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Lowestoft: 10.04pm today

Southwold: 11.09pm today

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Aldeburgh: 11.34pm today

Orford Quay: 12.43pm today and 1.12am tomorrow

Woodbridge: 12.44pm today and 1.15am tomorrow

Felixstowe Pier: 11.58am today and 12.26am tomorrow

Harwich: 12.07pm today and 12.31am tomorrow

Walton-on-the-Naze: 12.03pm today and 12.32am tomorrow

Clacton-on-Sea: 12.14pm today and 12.43am tomorrow

West Mersea: 12.37pm today and 1.05am tomorrow

Wednesday, January 11

• During the late afternoon the Environment Agency published flood warnings (flooding expected, immediate action required) for locations along the Suffolk coast that evening, including Southwold, Blythburgh and Felixstowe Ferry.

• Portable flood barriers started to be put up in some places at risk.

• The reason given for this was a combination of spring tides and a tidal surge (see below for an explanation of what this is).

• At the same time, lesser flood alerts (flooding possible, be prepared) were issued for places such as Lowestoft, the Deben Estuary and parts of the Essex coast around Clacton.

• The warning was in place from around 8.30am until 12.45pm on January 12 at the latest, however it is not believed any of the locations suffered significant flooding – but higher than usual tides were reported.

• The only place reported to have experienced some flooding was The Strand at Wherstead, which was impassable for some time.

Thursday, January 12

• New flood warnings were issued by the Environment Agency for the Suffolk and Essex coastline and along some inland waterways for today (Friday, January 13).

• Places subject to severe flood warnings, the highest level of warning (severe flooding, danger to life) included the area around Clacton and Jaywick where high tide is expected around 1pm today.

• In Suffolk, the threat of flooding today meant the Suffolk Resilience Forum advised 1,100 properties in at-risk areas should be evacuated. A rest centre was set up in Felixstowe at Brackenbury Sports Centre, opening from 8am today, for people nearby who wanted to leave their homes.

• Warnings included places like Felixstowe Ferry, Bawdsey Quay, parts of the Deben Estuary and Ipswich Quay.

• Further north, the warnings were for today's evening high tides (around 10pm) and included Lowestoft, Oulton Broad, Snape and Southwold. There will rest centres open from 2pm today at Leiston Leisure Centre, Water Lane Leisure Centre in Lowestoft and Carlton Colville Community Centre in Carlton Colville.

Friday, January 13

• This morning, flood warnings or alerts remain for all the locations listed above – but for many places extended warnings are now in force which include tonight and tomorrow morning as well.

• Flooding is still listed as possible imminently for places in Essex around Clacton, the River Colne and St Peters Flat, while the same is true in Suffolk for Felixstowe, the Orwell and Stour estuaries, the River Waveney, Southwold and Lowestoft.

• Aldeburgh Primary School has been closed because of the flooding threat.

• Tonight severe flood warnings are in place for Lowestoft, Oulton Broad, Snape and Southwold.

Is my property at risk?

You can check your flood risk here or call Floodline on 0345 988 1188 or follow @EnvAgency and #floodaware on Twitter for the latest flood updates.

Why are these floods happening?

The cause given for the floods this week is a combination of spring tides and a storm surge.

A spring tide has nothing to do with the time of year – it's actually to do with the alignment of the moon and the sun.

During a full or new moon, when the Earth is nearly lined up with the two celestial bodies, tides can be a bit higher than usual.

This is because the gravitational pull of the moon, which is what causes the tides on Earth, is coupled with that of the sun as well.

A stronger gravitational pull means the oceans will bulge more than usual, giving us higher high tides and lower low tides than during the rest of the year.

And why a spring tide? It refers to the tide 'springing forth' because of the extra gravitational effects.

What is a storm surge?

Storm surges usually occur with low pressure weather systems – lower atmospheric pressure over the sea allows the water level to rise, whereas a higher pressure would cause it to fall. It's similar to what happens when you drink through a straw.

The main cause however is high winds. They physically push the sea water towards the coast where it piles up.

The strong winds can also create large waves which can rise up over flood defences.

If the surge happens at low tide then the rise in water level may not be enough to cause damage, flooding or override defences.

However when coupled with a high tide, storm surges can have a devastating effect – as seen in Suffolk in December 2013.

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