Floods, followed by more floods, followed by snow, followed by ice... 2012 and early 2013 have been
notable mainly for appalling weather. Yesterday, for instance, roads were closed across the region after sheet ice made driving almost impossible and there were dozens of accidents. The impact was twofold – potentially tragic for those directly affected and frustrating and ultimately costly for almost everyone else caught up in the ensuing chaos.
It used to be the case that such events could be dismissed as one-offs; something to be borne with stoicism because, chances were, if it happened this year or this month, it would not happen again next. Increasingly, however, that seems to be changing. We have now had to cope with flooding on a number of occasions across just a few months. July, November and December have all seen disruptive and damaging incidents because of heavy and persistent rain.
Winters too have recently been colder – or with significantly colder spells. The disruption, in our part of the country, has, thankfully, not been as serious as for some. But there have been school closures, stay-at-home workers, damaged road surfaces, accidents and a negative effect on farming – all of which have a cost attached. Britain’s reaction to bad winter weather is almost a national joke. But it is not as funny as it used to be. Where other nations manage to keep major transport links running through snow and ice ours grind to a halt. That is excusable when the heavy snow hits only one year in ten. It is less acceptable, either to Britons or to foreign visitors, when it happens year after year.
As one New Yorker, held up for hours at Heathrow, remarked earlier this month, after snowfall grounded all flights, “back home this would be considered a nice spring day. Here it brings everything to a halt.”
It is, of course, far easier to cope with snow when it comes every single year and you have the equipment and, perhaps as importantly, the mind-set to manage your way through. Far harder when events apparently take you by surprise. The same can be said of monsoon-like rains, heatwaves and other weather-related events. So isn’t it time that we in Britain, and that includes the South West, worked up more robust plans to cope with winter snow, heavy rain and any other dramatic climate related problems?
Yesterday we reported cutbacks to flood defence spending. That is just the kind of foolish, short-
termism that we do not need given the experiences of recent years. Unless we are happy to put up with endless school closures affecting our children’s education, traffic chaos because roads cannot be cleared of ice, business disrupted by the non-appearance of staff and vital infrastructure rendered useless by bad weather, we need to prepare for more of the same, year in and year out. And learn to cope far, far better than we do now.