John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
What could be the worst tidal surge in six decades has swamped parts of the U.K. but not London, thanks to the miraculous Barrier.
The Thames Barrier might be out of mind to many Londoners, but that doesn't mean it's not actively preventing a catastrophe. The important work of the mammoth, yellow-armed river giant is evident in the chilling image above, showing the vast regions of the city that would've gone underwater today had the barrier suddenly failed.
Of course, it's just a simulation; the barrier closed Thursday right in time for a monster tempest that forecasters said could deliver the U.K.'s biggest storm surge in 60 years. The dire prediction that this gusty weather-socking could be as bad as the dread North Sea Flood, a killer of roughly 2,500 people in 1953, did not come true, although there is a report that sea levels were higher this time around. Right now, the country is painted with flood warnings, and thousands of people are presumably miserable after the government evacuated them so they wouldn't be "swept into the sea."
The 1953 flood was actually the reason that the U.K. started building storm barriers such as the Thames', which opened for business in the early '80s. The country's Environment Agency tweeted the flood-simulation map to remind everyone of its protective presence, standing calm and steely against millions of tons of frigid water. Explains the Wharf:
The Environment Agency has released a startling image of the impact of the tidal surge on east London if it had not been for the Thames Barrier.
It sees nearly all of land in around Canary Wharf, the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula submerged by water.
The flood would have also stretched over Rotherhithe.
It's probably no exaggeration. This photo, taken north of London at Whitley Bay, shows the kind of furious natural forces this particular storm generated:
The barrier opened a few hours ago, as the worst of the foul weather seems to have passed. Now it's time for cleaning up and inspecting the country's various sea defenses. Let's all take a moment to give the king of them all, the Thames Barrier, a well-deserved salute: