Millions of Britons endured a miserable commute today after flash flooding hit large swathes of the country sending roads underwater, with more torrential rain on the way for the rest of the week.
Police in Kent and the Midlands urged motorists not to drive through deep floods as it could prove deadly, after officers received countless calls of roads underwater amid fears up to 4in (100mm) of rain could fall this week.
Forecasters said some areas have already recorded 4.1in (104mm) of rain in just one day yesterday – two months’ worth – with the highest total at Ham Hill in Kent, followed by Eynsford in the same county with 3.5in (90mm).
Traffic officials were forced to close the M25 in Kent overnight after a lorry crash revealed two sinkholes on the central reservation, with severe delays still plaguing the motorway today despite it reopening at 6am.
Motorists in Kent faced further delays today when the M25 was closed in both directions between junctions three and four. Flooding reached over a foot deep in some areas last night with several cars stranded on the M20.
Rail commuters faced further travel chaos on the trains today, with Southeastern, Southern and Thameslink routes suffering delays and cancellations – and passengers on the latter two routes told to ‘avoid travelling if possible’.
North-eastern parts of England and the Midlands will bear the brunt of the downpours today, with a severe Met Office warning in place until midnight and some areas set to see up to 2.4in (60mm) of rain just this morning.
Twitter users complained about the weather, with one saying the conditions were ‘diabolical’, another saying they ‘feel like building an ark’ and a third adding: ‘What happened to summer? I seem to have woken up in the autumn.’
The Environment Agency has issued three flood warnings in South East England, for the River Wandle at Morden in South London, the Emm Brook at Wokingham, Berkshire, and Ravensbourne at Bromley, South East London.
The agency said on its website: ‘River levels have risen as a result of localised thunderstorms. Flooding of property is expected imminently. Please take action.’
A total of 31 flood alerts – which mean flooding is possible – are in place across the country. The M25 has now re-opened but there are severe delays in parts of Kent and Surrey as heavy rain continues to fall.
Southern, Southeastern and Thameslink trains are suffering cancellation and delays. West Mercia Police, which covers Worcestershire, Hereford and Shropshire, urged drivers not to risk their lives by driving through floods.
They tweeted: ‘Torrential rain is causing flash flooding in many areas. Please do NOT drive through deep flood water. By entering flood water you are potentially risking your own life & those of the Emergency Services.’
Meanwhile two police officers were seriously injured after their marked BMW X5 hit crashed on the A1(M) in Stevenage last night after the driver lost control in what was described as ‘challenging weather’.
Hertfordshire Constabulary said the officers were ‘assisted by members of the public and were taken to hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries’ after the collision shortly after 10pm yesterday.
Elsewhere in West Kingsdown near Sevenoaks in Kent, fire crews rescued an woman in her 80s and her pet dog from their flooded home after water poured in up to waist height. Crews said there were no reported injuries.
The band of rain is expected to move slightly north and west over the week before settling, with Northern Ireland and Scotland set for the best weather.
Yesterday evening, heavy flooding in Kent closed all train lines through Orpington railway station for several hours, while police shut a section of the M25 overnight after discovering two sinkholes on the central reservation.
Kent Police’s Roads Policing Unit tweeted: ‘M25 jct 4-5 closed as a result of a single vehicle RTC which in turn has lead to the discovery of 2 sinkholes in the central Reservation.’
Some areas set to see up to 2.5in of rain, particularly over the first half of the day, according to the Met Office.
A yellow weather warning for rain is in place for the Midlands, east and north east of England until midnight tonight. Another warning covers Devon and Somerset until 9pm, where similar conditions are expected.
On tomorrow and Thursday, some parts of the UK could be struck by 2.5 to three inches of rain, and possibly even up to four inches.
In Lincolnshire there were several critical incidents. Fire crews worked throughout the night to pump out water after the boiler room at the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston was flooded.
Dozens of school children also had to be rescued from a coach after got stuck in floodwater in Belchford, and Bannovallum School in nearby Horncastle was also closed to most pupils after six inches of water got inside.
Met Office meteorologist Alex Burkill described the total rainfall figures as the ‘worst-case scenarios’ but added that people need ‘to be aware that we’re in for some treacherous weather’.
‘If you add it all up some places are likely to see over four inches this week, which is around double the average they would get in the whole of June,’ he said.
Residents are being told to avoid low-lying footpaths near local watercourses and plan driving routes to avoid low-lying roads near rivers which may be flooded.
Issuing an M20 warning last night, Kent Police tweeted: ‘The M20 Junction 1-2 where river has burst its banks and now flooding all three lanes of carriageway Amazingly drivers are ignoring warning advising them to slow down!’
Elsewhere in the UK and the Road Policing Unit in Surrey reported that they had attended several road traffic collisions due to drivers going too fast in the wet weather.
There are five separate severe weather warnings for rain that do not relent until Thursday, and commuters across swathes of eastern England have been told to take extra care in treacherous conditions on the roads.
Areas of higher ground will get about 2.5in (64mm) of rain in only 12 hours today, with 40mph winds battering the East coast. The average rainfall for the whole of June in eastern England is just over two inches.
Steve Ramsdale, duty chief meteorologist for the Met Office, said: ‘The development of weather conditions leading to thunderstorms and intense rainfall can happen extremely quickly, creating a challenge for forecasters.
‘We have been able to indicate the likelihood of further spells of heavy rainfall for the rest of the week, but the exact details will remain uncertain until nearer the events. We will update warnings accordingly.’
Met Office forecaster Steven Keates said the northern Home Counties, East Midlands, Lincolnshire and Humber could see some of the heaviest and most persistent rain.
He added: ‘Eastern and southern England in particular are likely to be seeing long and persistent bad weather. Some places could see a month’s worth of rain in two or three days, and we could see some flooding issues.’
The heaviest downpour on Sunday night, when the weather front first swept in, was recorded in Sellindge, Kent, where 0.6in (15mm) fell in 12 hours, the Met Office said.
The rainfall and thunderstorms are being triggered by a combination of heat across parts of central Europe and a low-pressure system approaching the UK from the south, drawing in warmer air from the continent.
Even areas not covered by the weather warnings will experience significant showers. Forecasters are warning drivers to expect spray flooding and closures on the roads this week.
There is a small chance of more remote, rural communities being totally cut off by floods, while homes and businesses in eastern areas could suffer flooding and residents should have contingency plans in place.