A couple weeks ago, I published a blog called Whether the Weather. It was about some of the research I’ve been doing into how everyday changes in the weather affect our daily travel choices. I’ve read quite a bit more on the topic since then, but I won’t bore you with that. Because I’ve also read about the impacts of more extreme weather on transport infrastructure and how that can more irregularly and infrequently affect our travel choices. Except it’s not as infrequent as you think.
I found a couple of websites from the Met Office and an organisation called FloodList with non-exhaustive reports of recent extreme weather events in the UK. Who needs disaster movies when you can read about real life? Especially when you can attach personal memories to many a story or photo.
Although not every individual resident has experience of being evacuated from their home due to floods or stranded for hours due to transport disruption, most of us can probably recall how some of these events affected us, our family, our social network or even the wider society.
Did you know people who took untold hours to get home after snow cut short Christmas shopping in 2010? Did you smell smoke from the forest fires of Spring 2011? Maybe someone told you about the Toon Monsoon in 2012. Or you saw on social media one of the great pictures of the lightening during the electrical storms in July 2013? Do you have family in the Southwest you couldn’t visit when the rail line was washed away in 2014? Or friends in Yorkshire that saw their favourite restaurant flood in 2015? Perhaps the flash floods on 23rd June 2016 in London affect the voter turn-out there for the EU referendum?
Although snow may be more immediately disruptive and heatwaves more enduring, heavy rain and storms and the floods they cause are the greatest risks to the UK’s transport infrastructure . Great Britain may be an island, but coastal flooding is only a small part of it. Tides and storm surges, rivers bursting their banks, flash flooding, overflowing drains, groundwater seeping upwards – all forms of flooding pose risks to a significant proportion of national transport (and other) infrastructure throughout the country. Heavy rain, storms and flooding can trigger further problems, like landslips, sinkholes, coastal erosion and trees falling in the heavy winds that often accompany storms. When energy and communications infrastructure are also affected, the impacts can be compounded.
One study calculated that the storms of 28 June 2012 caused 10,000 minutes of delay on the national rail network, which didn’t get back to normal until mid-July, whilst there were also long delays on the strategic road network . And this research didn’t even investigate local impacts. As this was the storm that caused the Toon Monsoon, a different study describes roads and properties flooded and severe disruption and damage from which it took some time to recover .
As we face such destructive weather, we as a society needs to adapt. I found three ‘R’s’ that should form our strategy: resistance, resilience and recovery. These ‘R’s’ are not only for engineers and scientists, civil servants and emergency responders to consider as they prepare strategies, redesign infrastructure, or even coordinate evacuations. They are also for people in their communities to think about how they would prepare, adapt and react.
Put yourself in that disaster movie. What would you do when the severe weather warnings or flood warnings were first issued? How many of your daily activities could you carry on with in the event? Do you have the skills to help get things back to normal quickly and painlessly? And in the longer term, would it affect your decisions about where you live and work and play, and how you get around?
1.Dawson, R., Chapter 4: Infrastructure, in UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017: Evidence Report. 2016, Committee on Climate Change. p. 1-111.
2.Jaroszweski, D.H., Elizabeth; Baker, Chris; Chapman, Lee and Quinn, Andrew, The impacts of the 28 June 2012 storms on UK road and rail transport. Meteorological Applications, 2015. 22: p. 470-476.
3.Pregnolato, M.F., Alistair; Robson, Craig; Glenis, Vassilis; Barr, Stuart and Dawson, Richard Assessing urban strategies for reducing the impacts of extreme weather on infrastructure networks. Royal Society Open Science, 2016. 3: p. 1-15.