Friday, November 21, 2014

Stormy Weather

Winter is fast approaching, and with it the usual spate of news headlines about storms and flooding. Parts of the UK have suffered flooding in various forms over the past few winters, whether from burst river banks, tidal storm surges, high groundwater levels, or overland flow - whatever the source, storms are guaranteed to cause headlines again this winter.
"In one sense, there is a predictability about storms.."
Are you in the right place?
I've ended up spending a fair chunk of my working life assessing the severity of storms, and advising clients of all shapes and sizes how best they can future-proof their development to take due account of a changing climate.

In one sense, there is a predictability about storms - we have rainfall records going back to 1766 from which we can assess what "size" storm statistically occurs every say, 10 years or 100 years. Based on this we can make sure that new developments have drainage systems which are sized to accommodate a suitable amount of rainfall, allowing for increased rainfall intensity in future due to the predicted effects of climate change over the lifetime of the development.

We have complex river models and flood maps showing the historic and theoretical floodplain, which help developers and planners avoid locating more vulnerable development in high risk areas. We know from experience that winter is often (but not exclusively) the time when the most severe storms are experienced. In areas protected by flood defences, we know that residual risks remain if the defences should fail, and can therefore plan for emergency procedures to protect property and life from harm.
"..but most of the time storms are unpredictable."
So yes, in one sense storms are predictable and there are things we can do in advance to prepare - like residents of Caribbean islands boarding up their houses in advance of a hurricane.

But as we all know, most of the time storms are unpredictable. We don't know exactly when or where they will occur. In our own lives we can get engulfed in unexpected storms at the drop of a hat - a sudden illness, an accident, issues at work, issues at home.

When a storm hits our lives, we usually can't continue with "business as usual". How can we prepare for these? How can we react? I'd like to offer three suggestions of how we can think ahead, borrowing from the flood risk advice I give in my day-job. I don't mean to belittle anyone's difficult circumstances, or suggest that there is a solve-all solution for the numerous storms of life that we go through - big or small. However, I hope that my thoughts will provide a helpful alternative perspective for us to reflect on.
"Are you in the right place?"
Firstly, are you in the right place? Or should I say, have you ended up dwelling (not literally) in a risky place? Whether intentionally or not, we can find ourselves in situations, commitments, or relationships that are the equivalent of the shifting sands than the foolish man built on.

Perhaps it's worth reflecting on the different parts of your life and, if you're able, re-positioning to somewhere safer. If that's not possible, at least think about possible escape routes if the unthinkable happened, such as losing your job suddenly (like the flood defences failing).

I was reminded this week about the story of King Canute, who's flattering advisors (if I remember the story correctly) had claimed he was powerful enough to turn back the waves of the sea - something he was aware he couldn't do, and rebuked them accordingly. On the Canute Hotel in Southampton is an inscription marking this event "Near this spot in AD1028, Canute reproved his courtiers". Like Canute, we can't command the waves to stop - but maybe we can choose where we locate ourselves to stay as dry as we can!

Do you have people around you?
Secondly, do you have the right materials to hand to provide protection? In real life this could be sand bags (actually an inefficient flood barrier, but that's beside the point), but in the context of the storms of life, do you have people around you who can provide support?

Do you know where to turn to for advice? It's good to be part of a community that cares for you - personally I have been amazingly supported over the years through our local church. Who are the human sand bags in your life you could turn to?

Finally, are there ways you can help others through their storms? It's common for redevelopment projects these days to be required to reduce the amount of peak rainfall runoff they discharge compared to the existing situation. This is called "betterment", and the idea is that flood risk is reduced to others as a result. Are there ways that you can reduce "storm damage" for those around you? Perhaps by being a listening ear, providing a meal, giving some good advice - could you be a "sand bag" for someone in need?
"Stormy weather may be on the horizon, but you don't have to face it alone."
Storms can be severe - like the record snow experienced in parts of America in 2014. In our lives we can suffer traumatic storms which leave us feeling cut-off, displaced, even lost. We can't prevent storms from happening, but we may be able to reposition ourselves to reduce the risk. We can gather human sand bags around us, to provide support - and most importantly we can be that support for others around us.

Stormy weather may be on the horizon, but you don't have to face it alone.


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Unknown said...

I like the analogy and the application of storm defence advice to problems in life - it makes sense. #bigfatlinky

Random Musings said...

Fab post :) I don't know if I prepare in the best way for approaching disaster, but I do have fab friends, so I know I have a support system if I ever need it!
Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes

Martyn Kitney said...

This is something that I really prepare for. For me storms can cause problems so am always prepared. Esp without regular support. I have a lot backed up for emergencies. Being in communities are helping with it though. Great analogy. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky hope to see you there this week

Luke Strickland said...

Thanks for dropping by, glad the metaphor connected!

Luke Strickland said...

Always a pleasure! See you soon

Luke Strickland said...

It's good to be prepared hey!