North Sea Flood of 1953

A storm formed south of Iceland on January 30th, 1953 and it was not a cause for concern at the time because the barometric pressure was not unusually low.

Hurricane-force winds blowing from the northwest pushed the storm over the North Sea.

The strong winds and a sudden drop in barometric pressure caused the sea level to rise and it formed a hump. As soon as this ridge of water was funneled into the North Sea and reached the shallower water, it created a storm surge.

Storm surges in the North Sea follow a typical pattern. They move in a counter-clockwise direction, first heading south and hitting the west coast of Britain and then spinning northward and striking the coast of Europe. This usually happens in a 24-hour period.

As Americans come to grips with the New Orleans’ flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge overtopping and breaching multiple levees on August 29, 2005, similar historical flood disasters may provide perspective and guidance. One such flood was the vicious North Sea Storm that crashed into the Netherlands in the early morning hours of February 1, 1953.

Engraved on the minds of many people living on the east coast of England is the freezing winter weekend of January 31 and February 1, 1953, when a high sea and high tide left a trail of death and disaster in the worst flooding in Britain this century.

During the night of January 31 floods claimed 307 lives, devastated 200,000 acres of farmland, swept cattle, horses, sheep and poultry to their deaths and made 21,000 people homeless. Not until the next morning was it realised that the greatest peacetime catastrophe in this country in living memory had struck a normally peaceful countryside. Over 100 more lives were lost at sea, and 1800 were lost in Holland.

The North Sea flood of 1953 (Dutch: Watersnoodramp: 'the flood disaster') and the associated storm combined to create a major natural disaster which affected the coastlines of the Netherlands and England on the night of 31 January – 1 February 1953. Belgium, Denmark and France were also affected by flooding and storm damage.

A combination of a high spring tide and a severe European windstorm caused a storm tide. In combination with a tidal surge of the North Sea the water level locally exceeded 5.6 metres above mean sea level. The flood and waves overwhelmed sea defences and caused extensive flooding.

Officially, 1,835 people were killed in the Netherlands, mostly in the south-western province of Zeeland. 307 were killed in the United Kingdom, in the counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. 28 were killed in West Flanders, Belgium.