Just a load of hot air? How severe weather events are becoming more common and how this affects our transport links in the UK.

During the winter of 2013/14, the UK experienced some of the most extreme weather that people have seen for many years. Across the country railway lines were severed, flights delayed and many roads closed which brought thousands of motorists and commuters to a standstill. Coastal/fluvial flooding, high tides, storm surges, fallen debris, high winds and extreme temperatures amongst other things all pose an increasing threat to both our transport links and our safety. These events are becoming increasingly common on our shores, and we are being told that climate change is the driving factor for these increases.

We have been used to scientists warning us about climate change for decades now, and I am sure that we have all experienced delays due to severe seasonal weather. But how will this affect transport further in the future, and how should we try and mitigate against it?Storms from hurricane Gonzalo at Girvan harbour, Scotland

I have decided to write this blog due to Hurricane Gonzalo being in the news this week. The tail end of the tropical storm has been making its way across the Atlantic over to the shores of the United Kingdom, and the headlines have all been about how this will disrupt everyday life for us. This includes affecting our transport and journey times, especially those relying on public transport, not to mention our very safety as there is danger of falling debris such as roof tiles and trees. It is not surprising that it has caused so much damage, with wind speeds reaching over 70mph in some parts of the British Isles. Flights have been delayed (110 at Heathrow Airport) and caused a massive amount of disruption for thousands of travellers. This certainly isn’t the first instance of a hurricane reaching us in the UK, but it could become a much more common occurrence.

There are a couple of different approaches to tackle these sorts of weather issues. The first is to mitigate against the issues using physical measures (such as flood defences, raised banks etc.), thus negating the impact of the severe weather and allowing people and goods to still be able to move. These sorts of measures are usually particularly expensive, and it would be unreasonable to suggest that everything could be protected in this way. The second approach then is to ensure that the correct processes and procedures are in place to enable transport services to resume as normal as soon as possible after an event has occurred.  A good example of mitigating against traffic disruption can be seen during the London Olympics, and there are certainly some lessons that could be learnt to help deal with extreme weather events. Consultants advised businesses on the traffic disruption that would be occurring during the games, and suggested that employees work from home or leave their house later on in the morning to prevent delays. This seemed to be a big success and a similar approach could easily help commuters during a future storm in the UK.

I do believe that our country will become better prepared for extreme weather events, especially as they are predicted to become increasingly common. We will simply have to get better than we already are, but I think that preparation comes with familiarity. Countries in Europe and across North America are better suited to cope with weather such as heavy snow as they experience it for a much longer period compared to us. Perhaps we will become better prepared in the future due to greater exposure.

Have you ever been affected by serious weather in the UK? Trees on railway lines? Or floods in the road? Let us know!

HC

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