Important transport links
1 July 2013
After last year's wet summer and some recent challenging winters, few of us need reminding that the only certainty about Britain's weather is how changeable it is. In extreme weather, transport is often affected. That's why the close ties between the Department for Transport (DfT) and Met Office are so important, as Lucy Chadwick, DG International, Strategy and Environment Group for DfT, explains.
Whatever the time of year, it's never too early to think about what's round the next seasonal corner and get ready for whatever the weather throws at us. In times of severe weather, floods, and other natural hazards such as volcanic ash, DfT and our executive agencies, the Marine and Coastguard Agency and Highways Agency, work closely with the Met Office to protect lives and minimise disruption on land, at sea and in the air.
Snow, biting winds and plummeting temperatures take their toll on our transport networks. So, it is in winter especially that the DfT and Met Office engage. In recent years, the UK has experienced extreme winters. Even during milder winters, there can be severe ice and snow. We are also well aware that regional contrasts and daily differences can be significant - as well as the possibility of severe conditions outside of the core winter months of December, January and February - hence the importance of our close working relationship with the Met Office.
Flooding has the potential to cause huge problems to the transport network, both during winter and summer, so we routinely use Met Office advice for risk assessment and contingency planning, as well as daily operations. In extreme weather situations DfT has access to further forecaster support. Regular operational forecasts enable my department, and the transport sector more widely, to flex resources to meet the variability for contingency planning and resilience.
The accuracy of Met Office short-range forecasts is very high and the Met Office 1-5 day forecast and severe weather warnings help Government, local councils, train, airport and road operators, to minimise the impact of severe weather.
Accurate and aligned messages
DfT now has a high-level understanding with the Met Office which sets out basic working principles. If severe weather is expected, the arrangement can speed up facilitation of a dedicated forecaster. DfT and Met Office communications teams also work closely to ensure messages are accurate and aligned across government.
To help keep roads open we work closely with local authorities. Through the Highways Agency we've introduced a new Weather Information Service so everyone involved in gritting and snow-clearing, has accurate, up-to-date forecasts. To let motorists know how their journeys could be affected by severe weather, there's even a Met Office forecaster in the Highways Agency's National Traffic Operations Centre.
On our railways, we've invested to help train operators keep tracks clear from snow and flood water. We haven't forgotten the impact that extreme weather can have on airports and lessons have been learned. Heathrow has a £50 million resilience investment plan and, aware of the benefits an embedded Met Office forecaster has brought to the Highways Agency, Heathrow has now followed suit.
In extreme conditions, how, when and where we travel will always be affected to some degree. It's unavoidable, even in countries that regularly experience harsh winters. What really matters is taking the time to prepare. After that, what matters is the speed of response, the effectiveness of mitigation measures and the time it takes for transport networks to recover. These are key components of effective resilience and they're at the heart of this Government's efforts to keep the country moving. So, while the Great British weather will do what it does, through our important links with the Met Office we are better prepared to deal with the challenges nature throws at us.