extreme weather

Can Britain’s infrastructure support extreme weather?

The UK is well known for its moderate temperatures and mild, if slightly cold weather. However, after two extreme heatwaves during 2018 and 2018, as well as the Beast from the East storm in 2018, the weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Scientists predict that 2019 will be the coldest winter in decades, with temperatures falling to dangerously low levels. It is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the realities of climate change – and it’s not just cold weather that we can expect. Snow, heatwaves, and flash flooding all pose a risk to UK infrastructure.

Sweltering heatwaves

Britain rarely gets to enjoy a hot summer, with the first hint of sunshine usually being enough for Brits to flock to BBQs and beer gardens. But in recent years, the temperature has been on the rise and these pockets of sun seem more common. Although we love the opportunity to get outside, the hot and dry weather actually has a damaging effect on our infrastructure.

Dry conditions also contribute towards potholes and fissures in roads, which pose a risk to drivers. In addition, heatwaves can cause railway systems to overheat, as the temperature of steel rails can reach 20 degrees higher than the air around them. Therefore, consistent temperatures of 30 or even 40 degrees could lead to extreme over-heating of rail tracks. As a result, the metal on the tracks will expand, which puts them at risk of buckling. In extreme circumstances, this could derail trains.

Electrical lines can also be damaged during heatwaves, with the hot weather causing them to sag. This is yet another factor that could cause serious disruptions to train services, and the lines might even be pulled down. The only way that the rail systems can combat these dangers is to impose more severe speed restrictions. Although this may cause delays over hot periods, it is the safest way for the transport system to operate.

Dangerous flash flooding

Another direct result of global warming, floods are becoming more and more common in the UK, and the Environmental Agency has told flood planners to “prepare for the worst”. In a recent consultation on flood strategy, the agency claimed that “for every person who suffers flooding, about 16 more are affected by loss of services such as power, transport and telecommunications.” Evidently, the UK’s infrastructure needs to keep improving, as floods are only going to worsen in the future.

The Environmental Agency has outlined that all public infrastructures need to be made to withstand flooding by 2050. We also need to start considering the long-term rather than the immediate future. As part of this advice, they encouraged people to start considering potential flooding while building new homes, rather than just reacting to the damage when it occurs. When constructing something new, whether in the public or private sector, a flood risk assessment should always be carried out. These assessments identify flood mitigation measures and provide advice on what actions should be taken in the event of a flood.

Sub-zero Winters

Snowy and icy winters have become a significant problem in the UK in recent years. During the harsh winters of 2018 and 2019, the UK transport system faced extreme difficulties. From icy roads to exposed direct current indicators and flashover faults, the cold weather can cause severe damage. In response to this, a cold weather plan was established in order to outline what to expect and how best to prepare over the increasingly cold winters. Local authorities are now better equipped than ever to grit roads and prevent black ice as a result of this. For the transport sector, forward planning is key. Transport planning advice plays a major part in ensuring that infrastructure schemes take into account all environmental considerations at the design stage to help to mitigate risks.

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