Extreme weather in the UK: Can our infrastructure cope?

With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly clear, the UK will have to prepare its infrastructure to cope with the damage. The recent bout of storms, which saw winds of over 90mph, relentless downpour, and floods, have devastated parts of the country. Rebecca Pow, who works for the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, said that the UK will have to ‘adapt’ to the extreme weather. But can the UK’s infrastructure handle such extreme weather conditions?

Flood resilience

The UK is ill equipped to deal with flooding, as has been proven time and time again. 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.

In relation to this, the Environmental Agency advised that all public infrastructures need to be made flood-resilient 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.

Winter transport

The recent barrage of stormy weather and snow shows that the UK needs to ready its infrastructure. During the harsh winters of recent years, the UK transport system has faced extreme difficulties. From icy roads to exposed direct current indicators and flashover faults, the cold weather can cause severe damage.

The government have established a cold weather plan to help deal with the turbulent 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.

Heatwave disruptions

Hot summers with temperatures rising above 40°C have become the norm 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.

The hot weather can also lead to cracks in the roads, which causes major issues for Britain’s 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.

Hot weather can also lead to the sagging and expanding of electrical lines. 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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