Doris to Dennis

First, I want to acknowledge that I am lucky. Storm Dennis has done nothing worse to me and mine than drive my kids a little stir crazy and delay my train journey home from work the past couple of evenings.

But it has also given me a strange feeling of having come full circle. For just less than 3 years ago, on 23 February 2017, there was Storm Doris.

Storm Doris also had little direct impact on me, my family, or my property. I remember having to carry my then two and a half year old son the last 100 yards to his childminder because the road was blocked by a fallen tree, but that was it. I didn’t commute by train very often at the time.

Instead, I went home to sit down at my laptop and continue work on my doctoral research. But with a difference.

After about 6 months of reviewing the literature for gaps I could fill, studying methodologies that I wasn’t sure I would apply, and chasing down dead ends for data I could not access, I suddenly had a real-time opportunity. Storm Doris meant a case study. It meant data. It meant my first foray into empirical research, and eventually my first peer-reviewed publication in the Royal Meteorological Society’s journal Weather.

Three years later, I have completed my PhD, passed my viva, and, just this week, ordered hard copies of my thesis – one for the University library in Birmingham and one for my bookshelf at home. My little story about Storm Doris comprises the content of Chapter 5. Thus I have travelled from Storm Doris to Storm Dennis.

And yet, perhaps because climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of severe weather events, these aren’t the only storms that are relevant to the trajectory of my career in transport research.

Over 20 years ago, as an undergraduate, I took a seminar on environmental and climate science, and chose to write a paper investigating the likely impacts of future hurricane storm surges on the New York City subway-metro system. It was my first foray into a transport-related topic, and in 2012, following Hurricane Sandy, I learned that my paper, and the more sophisticated research of the professor that had taken that seminar, had gone from speculation and prediction to become an unwelcome reality.

Unwelcome, but not unenlightening. Hurricane Sandy taught public authorities lessons about managing resilience and emergency planning. For me, it highlighted the importance of research. Doing it, disseminating it, learning from it before reality strikes. Perhaps it even planted in me the seeds of interest in returning to academia, to research, which then bloomed a few years later when I spotted an advertisement for a doctoral researcher who would investigate a topic that included both transport and extreme weather.

Thus, although I was a PhD student for six months before Storm Doris keeping busy with plenty of preparatory work, at some level, Doris marked the start of my personal investigation into the topic. Now, it seems that Dennis marks the end. Yet I somehow doubt it is the last time a storm will take an auspicious position in my transport career.

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