Credit: Osman Rana via Unsplash

Can a planning tool help mitigate the effects of extreme weather?

By Rebecca Scott

The UK Met Office is releasing a tool to help planners avoid areas prone to extreme weather. How helpful will it truly be?

The UK Met Office is launching a new climate analysis tool which will allow planners to more effectively prepare for increasingly frequent and severe weather extremes across the country. This tool comes from the United Kingdom Climate Projections (UKCP), which have recently been updated to highlight the significant impact that a changing climate will have upon the UK. The most recent projections, called the UKCP Probabilistic Projections of Future Extremes and published on 22 October, utilise a model of extreme weather events within local areas – down to 25km resolution – to allow planners to look at simulated examples of extreme weather events in the form of elevated rainfall and temperatures. The Met Office has decided to plan for future 1-in-50-year hazard events, as opposed to present 1-in-50-year hazard events, considering that the climate is not in stasis and will only become more capricious as we proceed into the future.

The introduction of this new projection tool helps planners (who are primarily comprised of government organisations, engineers, and professionals) to better understand the effects of more extreme weather events. This highlights the need for policymakers and planners to take into account the impact that the climate crisis will have upon the means through which new schemes and projects are constructed.

The Met Office’s projection software looks at the updated UK predictions for the most extreme weather events throughout the coming century and superimposes them on a map of the UK, allowing planners to closely examine the climate in which the projects they are constructing will exist. In particular, the tool utilises projected maximum temperatures and maximum precipitation as variables which can be analysed regarding a given region. This helps allow planners to essentially envision the climatic environment in which their projects and constructions will exist, allowing them to assess the risks and take into account necessary design changes – for example, greater implementation of urban green infrastructure or designs with a higher albedo effect to mitigate the negative impact of such extreme weather events on humans.

The utilisation of this tool by planners is essential in protecting communities in a period of considering climatic shift – it’s simply not viable to construct a building in a floodplain which will be increasingly inundated with more frequent and severe precipitation, consequently putting the wellbeing of residents at risk. This projection tool ensures planners are fully aware of how the climate will change throughout their project’s lifespan.

The UKCP operates under the Met Office and is supported by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. According to the Met Office, the tool aims to “help decision-makers assess their risk exposure to climate” before constructing schemes/projects, to entirely mitigate poorly planned projects which will be negatively affected by climatic change throughout the 21st century. 

Regarding access to the UKCP tool, the Met Office stated: “Use of the service is free but we like to know what people are using it for and how they are using it. This helps us understand how the wider community is benefiting from the projections.” Individuals can create an account on the UKCP website here and experiment with the climate analysis tool themselves, taking a look at the effect increasing precipitation and temperatures will have in their own region throughout the coming century.

The value of this tool cannot be understated, particularly during current times; 3 October 2020 was recorded as the UK’s wettest day on record since 1891, with the Met Office stating that the volume of rainfall that fell nationwide that day could have filled Loch Ness. The average rainfall on 3 October was 31.7mm, significantly greater than the previous record of 29.8mm set on 25 August 1986. Figures like these highlight the severity of the UK’s changing climate; we are facing unprecedented instances of severe weather events, and we must figure out a means of appropriately learning to live with and plan for these.

According to the UK Government’s 2009 National Assessment of Flood Risk, almost 6 million individuals in the UK are at risk of flooding. A key factor in perpetuating flood risk is the increased frequency and severity of precipitation events. The tool from the UKCP allows planners to more effectively plan with such risk taken into account, in order to mitigate flood risk for future projects.

As precipitation and temperature records are broken increasingly frequently across the UK, we must be as prepared as possible to deal with the impacts that such climatic events will have on humans. This increasing frequency of extreme weather events is indicative of a more serious, concerning and sustained alteration to our climate and must be appropriately dealt with by relevant planners and agencies. The importance of utilising climate models when designing projects and buildings that will take us into the future cannot be understated: the climate is changing, and we must change with it.


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