6 January 2014
It is back to reality today after a couple of weeks indulging my imagination in providing some holiday humour. For many it is a grim one.
The succession of storms that the UK has suffered over the last three weeks or so has been tough. I can remember three hurricanes in six weeks over in Florida a few years back, but nothing as sustained as this here and, at time of writing, we have another lot on the way.
I have written before about the horror of facing rising water, of knowing that you have a matter of hours before the level comes up to meet you and flows over your doorstep. It is a horrible situation to be in.
The power of nature is something that, in the UK at least, a great many of us do not have to worry about from a personal point of view. We see and read about natural disasters in other parts of the world and maybe do a little to help, but earthquakes, cyclones and whirlwinds are rare. Flooding, whilst more common, is not too widespread.
We also have much of our utility supply safely underground too these days, unlike in the US for example, where power and communications delivery to property is predominantly still via pole and cable and exposed to the dangers of high wind and storms.
In the UK, we are somewhat insulated from the precarious relationship that humans have with Mother Nature, but people in parts of the globe where things are more extreme can have interesting views. As a part-time American I once discussed the matter of earthquakes whilst in California. I had slept through a tremor the previous night that had caused minor damage; CCTV showed goods being shaken off a supermarket's shelves.
Chatting with a local in the lunch queue he told me that he lived pretty much on the main fault line. I was glad my Florida home was not subject to such risks.
"You're pretty sure to get at least one hurricane a year out there," he said. "The Big One may not come here in my lifetime".
Having already experienced two earth tremors in the UK prior to my West Coast experience, I'll take a hurricane any time out in Florida, for in a cinder block built home like ours your biggest risk is boredom, relieved only by taking bets on what time the pool will overflow or on how far a palm tree can bend.
Yes, the force of the wind can push rainwater clean through the block wall, and there are less fortunate folks in trailer homes and near the coast who have it much worse. All we have to do is mop up a bit, clear up a bit of debris and maybe replace a few shingles on the roof.
Those of us who work in FM will be acutely aware of the problem of balancing risk and resource. The media has been quick to find stories of hardship and you almost sense a disappointment when the subject displays a bit of fibre and Dunkirk Spirit; they would rather have someone complaining that not enough has been done.
"They've known about this for years" one person claimed, but neither they nor the reporter were specific about who "they" were or what they should have done. Nor was the question asked of the interviewee why they had moved there if they knew of the dangers; like my lunch companion in California, presumably we all accepted the risk at the time.
Having said that, there are some strange planning decisions. Not far from me here in Wiltshire, a large new development was sanctioned back in John Prescott's time in office on land not only supposed to be protected, but in an area where there was regular flooding. The developers promised that they would address the issue of drainage, but where do you drain when you are already at the lowest point locally? I thought about coming that way home on Saturday, but the new road was temporarily closed
The severe weather that we are experiencing exposes the notion that we have basic rights. In the eyes of nature we are just part of the eco-system and have to take what is handed out.
The storm that is approaching as I write this is one that has already brought major problems to parts of the USA and Canada. Friends from the latter who have gone south to use my Florida base have left behind minus 19 temperatures, yet they live just over the border from New York state, not in some remote part of the Dominion.
Climate changes happen with or without human influence; just spend a few minutes on the internet looking up ice ages. If we had not had global warming before we would still be in an ice age (or more likely would not exist) so climate change is neither new nor man made. We might have had some influence, but we didn't create it.
I started off about coming back to reality, and there is a reality in human life being fragile. The comfortable life that some of us get to live masks that truth for much of the time, but the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 have exposed the harsh side of life. Perhaps we needed the wakeup call.
John Bowen is an FM consultant