And so we leave a truly remarkable December behind, the wettest and mildest since modern records began, and absolute misery for the victims of the floods. But what’s next in terms of both the weather outlook and what the longer term solutions should be?
At the outset, let me make something crystal clear to Prime Minister Cameron, Elizabeth Truss (the environment minister), Piers Corbyn (Jeremy’s brother and critic of global warming issues) and indeed Uncle Tom Cobley and all; global warming accompanied by a strong El Nino, a roaring jet stream and long term deforestation of our hills, were the principal causes of the grief and sooner or later things WILL repeat, at the same locations and elsewhere. That is as sure a bet as the current drowning Australia v West Indies 2nd test match in Sydney ending in a soggy draw. So action IS required, but that does NOT mean raising flood barriers by a few inches more.
As for the immediate weather outlook – and although we have still got some more impacting rain to come over the next few days, the inevitable move towards somewhat drier but much colder weather is looming large. Frosts and snow may well be our next concern, which on the face of it doesn’t seem quite so debilitating, indeed it’s what the UK has been missing for many weeks now – a ‘normal’ winter. So some respite (for now perhaps), but that does not mean we are out of the woods. River levels and water tables will remain high for some time yet and it won’t take much of a reversion for flood risks to rise again. It’s all in the global warming melting pot!
Now, turning to the solutions. As a risk meteorologist, my job is assess weather/climate risks and come up with solutions that try to solve/make better/provide an answer for weather impacts across various fields. What I’m not is an construction engineer, an inventor or a technician beyond my own meteorological boundaries, so I do not profess to be able to tread where my skills do not go. I’ll leave that to those that can do a job within the various positions they hold. But what I have come up with is an 12 point starter plan that can be debated, added to and subtracted by those engaged in making the solutions actually happen. In that two things are very clear, the first is that doing nothing or fiddling at the margins is not an option (and that includes government ramping of what’s being spent). The second is (are you listening Mr.Cameron & Mr. Osborne), it’s going to take billions of pounds to take us to a point where we need to be practically, in order to combat the risks. So here we go then.
1. The government must reinstate and indeed increase the subsidies on alternative forms of energy – wind, solar, tide etc. It is utterly pointless in advocating alleviating CO2 levels at the recent Paris climate change conference, whilst doing the opposite in practice. We must do our bit and the government must stop pulling the wool over our eyes.
2. The individuals and councils impacted by the recent floods require not only compensating, but they also need additional money to take the necessary steps to re-build and protect, as outlined in 3-10. Charity handouts are NOT a fair or reasonable method of assisting those who have been most impacted, and local councils and/or insurers cannot be expected to pick up the bill and go on picking up the bill in the future, as evidently some risks are a risk too far.
3. Hillsides and mountains stripped of woods/forests over the decades need to be replanted. Floods of the type seen over the past few weeks can to a degree be alleviated by natural barriers which can soak up and slow down water flows into rivers. Other ingenious methods of slowing/diverting water flows also need to be employed by those with the knowledge and capability.
4. In the short term, all households and businesses in the immediate line of fire should be given emergency items to assist when the peril rises. That may include a simple box of items such as torches, whistles, first aid kits, life-jackets, tinned food/bottled water and the like. Whatever is of most help when the need arises. Lives will be at risk in the future and well considered safety items can do a lot to ensure lives are saved.
5. At risk communities require a place to go when the risk rises to a point for the need of evacuation. That could mean the building of a ‘community safe house’, where camp beds and food can be provided to suit the size of the population. Built out of the risk zone probably on current farmland, perhaps with alternate uses for when floods are not on the agenda.
6. Towns and villages in the risk zones could also benefit from what I have called a ‘safe storage centre’. A new community building out of the risk zone which can safely and store the most expensive/cherished personal/business items for free, for as long as is necessary, taking some of the onus off insurers and ensuring that such losses are minimised.
7. In the medium/long term, houses and business in the immediate flood plains need to be abandoned and relocated elsewhere. One massive and expensive step for sure but one that is absolutely necessary. Like it or not, it’s time to leave the sinking ship and find an island.
8. The same areas should be re-allocated as ‘leisure areas’ only – where any floods will cause minimal disruption. The battle has been lost; admit it and work and play with mother nature, not against it. Create these new zones where imagination can run riot.
9. Houses and businesses deemed in the second line of fire, require a change of internal design. Waterproofing first-floor doors and windows, furnishings, floorings and electrics that can withstand water inundation. In effect, a new type of modern internals that cannot be beyond the realms of construction companies and others.
10. A slightly selfish one but nonetheless required imo. That is local authorities and government should not only rely solely upon Met.Office outputs re severe weather warnings. Very often independent companies such as BWS are far more at the races when it comes to warning about severe impacting weather. The Met. Office are NOT always right – sometimes they are wrong, sometimes they are slow in delivering the message and occasionally too quick, in delivering the wrong message (crying wolf). UK PLC needs to wake up to the fact that it is beneficial to have more than one public voice and opinion when it comes to weather perils.
11. It’s all about education and publicity. Schools, communities and broadcasting/media organisations should be very much part of the equation. A renewed emphasis needs to be placed on climate change impact and more particularly the solutions, as at such times it’s individuals that will come forward with the best solutions, solutions that may be ‘sold’ internationally. Engage the population, ramp up the debate and do not allow the government to hide away until the next time.
12. Go on fill the space…..