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Construction Industry Opinion

Is Britains infrastructure prepared for extreme weather conditions?


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Is Britains infrastructure prepared for extreme weather conditions?


"During the harsh winters of 2018 and 2019, the UK transport system faced extreme difficulties"
Natasha Christou



Britain is famed for having a mild climate, but in recent years the weather has been erratic and unpredictable. We recently experienced one of the hottest summers on record in 2018, which followed on from the Beast from the East snowstorm a few months previous. 2019 looks set to bring even more extreme weather, with scientists at UCL predicting one of the coldest winters in decades. It will become even harder to ignore the realities of climate change as we attempt to commute through the black ice and snow on our way to work and school. And it’s not just snow that can bring British infrastructure to a halt; heatwaves and flooding can also cause unprecedented damage. Will our infrastructure be able to support these extreme weather issues? Or have we failed to plan for the inevitable? 

1.      Flooding

We see the results of climate change on a global scale every day, and it is becoming impossible to ignore. 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.

2.      Ice and snow

Brits have had to deal with a lot more snow and ice than usual over the past few 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.

3.      Extreme heat

People in the UK aren’t used to experiencing a lot of sunshine. 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.

Drivers are also at-risk during heatwaves, as the dry conditions can cause potholes and fissures in roads. 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.

Extreme heat can also damage electricity lines, causing erosion and sagging. 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.

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