Discuss the impacts of storm events in the British Isles and evaluate the response to them

Published: 2021-07-01 14:35:05
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The British Isles have variable weather, which may differ from day to day and many storms can pass unnoticed. They regularly experience stormy weather from depressions mainly originating in the Atlantic and move East to the UK due to its location at about 50 degrees north where the Polar Jet Stream will often cross over bringing these unpredictable weather systems. Depressions are areas of low atmospheric pressure which produce cloudy, windy and stormy weather.
This essay will be using the largest storms in the last 30 years including The Great Storm, 1987 and the Burns Day Storm, 1990 to relate the impacts which these storms create in social, economic and environmental terms and how the British Isles have responded to such events. The Great Strom in 1987 was famously known for being undetected until it hit during the night and caused huge devastation to the British Isles, France, Spain, Belgium and Norway. It hit the South West & South East of England with a maximum gust of 122 mph in Norfolk.
In addition the highest hourly mean wind speed was 85 mph at Shoreham-by-Sea and was sustained for 20 minutes. The social damage was huge; 19 people were killed, mainly from collapsing buildings and structures or falling debris. However had this storm been during the day time the death toll would have been much higher as we saw in the Burns Day Storm in 1990 where 97 were killed, due to trees and more people being outdoors. The Great Storm also left hundreds of thousands homes without electricity.
The National Grid faced heavy damage from short circuits and overheating, as a result, all of London’s power was turned off. There were also many blocked roads and railways which prevented people from working for the next few days. this meant the London stock market was suspended twice and the disruption meant the City was unable to respond to deals; The Dow Jones Industrial Average recorded its biggest ever one day slide. The structural damage also heavily affected the UK economy with an estimated cost of damage of ? 1. 2 billion and ?
15 billion on insurance claims. A secondary impact of this was that it meant premiums went up for everyone in the next year. Similarly, the storm in 1990 disrupted power to over 500,000 homes, it cost UK insurers ? 3. 36 billion, being the most expensive event to UK insurers, and fallen trees meant all major roads were blocked causing disruption to work and services. Environmentally these storms have huge impacts; the Great Storm blew down 15 million trees, Burns Day Storm only 3 million but suffered from severe flooding in England and West Germany.
Flooding is not uncommon in the British Isles, an example of another storm causing floods is the winter storm Undine, 1991 where the winds caused a huge surge of seawater and waves of up to 30 m were recorded out at sea. Although these impacts seem unbeneficial to the environment, the last large storm, St Judes 2013, has proven that there are some positives experienced. Firstly the UK wind industry benefits as last years storm generated 2. 8 million megawatt hours or electricity for the National Grid in December- enough to power more than 5.
7 million homes. On the 21st December 17% of the nations total electricity demand was met by turbines, the highest ever met. Secondly heavy rains across Britain mean that the water supply industry benefits. The rainfall in December and early January ensured that reservoir stocks were above average therefore the resource is in a good position for this years (2014) summer. In the future more we can take advantage of the storms by building more reservoirs to catch more water for the growing population.
In addition floods and storms are important to the `British Wildlife and much of it is used to wet weather. Small floods stimulate fish migration and clean rivers; larger floods fertilize soil on floodplains and provide new habitats. In addition there have been rear-record numbers of wading birds as a direct result of the rains due to the mild, wet conditions. Although the UK is used to stormy weather, when such catastrophic events occur it is difficult to prepare for and responses may not be as efficient as those countries hit by storms such as those in 1987 and 1990.
There was very little prediction to the Great Storm because funding cuts meant there were no weather ships in the Atlantic to warn of the cyclone, and many had gone to bed by the time it had approached. The met office was heavily blamed for the quote by forecaster Michael Fish “don’t worry, there isn’t…” when he told a woman that there was no hurricane on the way. In addition a response was to not inform some services such as the fire brigade until 3am, as a consequence two firefighters were killed by a tree falling on the truck on the way to a call. The fire brigade had 6000 calls in 24 hours.
The poor warnings meant that these services were overwhelmed and underprepared although did the best to take people to safety from collapsing buildings during the night. At the time the met office was also unsure about how long the storm would last and how bad it would be. Due to the lack of coordinated prediction and response improvements in technology were made. For example observational coverage of the atmosphere over the ocean to the south and west of the UK was improved by increasing the quality and quantity of ships, aircraft, buoys and satellites.
Refinements were made to computer models used in forecasting. In reference to the environment a great deal of money and time was spent cleaning up wooded areas and forests, which are highly important to the British culture. Some landowners, such as the National Trust did not attempt to clear up and replant as they realised there was an opportunity to study the patterns of natural regeneration after such an event. This may not be the most convectional response but it may help in the long term for studies.
By looking at the response to the storm 3 years later advancements can already been seen: the Met Office predicted it early on from observation from two ships in the Atlantic near the developing storm before it reached the UK. Warnings were increase to force 11 and eventually to hurricane force 12. This primary response was much more efficient and the agencies had learned from its previous mistakes. However research afterwards showed than most of the general public were not able to understand the severity of the warnings.
This lead to more awareness about the understanding of storms among the public by the KNMI who started a teletext page and the introduction of special warnings for extreme wether events in reaction to this. The evidence suggests that although the British Isles have had poor responses, they are improving especially considering storm of that size typically have a return period of 1 in 200 years. It appears that these storms are getting more frequent so actions are being taken especially to make sure the public is aware of what is happening, to have teams ready to rescue from buildings and floods and to help residents return to normal life.
Seeing that there is little to do to prevent trees falling and the damage from the winds this is the most important aspect. We can see that currently floods from upto 80 mph storms are causing damage to the British Isles and the army has already been helping rescue people. The Prime Minister has announced details of flood support packages including: 5,000 “repair and renew” grant for all affected homeowners and businesses, another Business Support Scheme worth up to ? 10million for SME businesses in areas affected by the floods and a ?
10 million fund for farmers suffering water-logged fields to help restore it to farmable land as quickly as possible. In conclusion storm events in the British Isles have hugely impacted all areas and continue to do so more frequently. The responses of the largest have not been exceptional due to under preparation however the advancements in weather prediction, warning systems and aid afterwards have majorly improved in the last 30 years. If these storms do become more common then responses from the ones in the past will help see what needs to be done before and after.

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