Storms are not an uncommon feature of life in the UK. In recent times though, storms have become more than just the source of short-term inconvenience. They have served as harbingers of what a climate changed future may be like.

How well prepared we are for our meteorological future in Wales?

As global average temperatures increase, scientific models indicate the prevalence of extreme weather events is likely to grow. According to the IPCC Climate Change 2021 report, Western and Central Europe will experience greater extremes in heat, drought, and heavy precipitation. Although scientists are less certain if climate change will result in an increase in severe storms, it seems reasonable to assume that it will.

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The natural environment of Wales makes it is particularly vulnerable to certain extreme weather events. Its long coastline means that storm surges will threaten coastal communities and infrastructure. Wales’s extensive river network also makes severe flooding a likely feature of future life. But Wales’s human-made landscape will also contribute to the risks associated with severe storms.

The prevalence of remote communities, particularly in mountainous areas, means that the nation’s energy network is vulnerable to supply disruption. In addition, a history of building on flood plains is likely to increase the incident of disruptive flood events (Wales is, of course, by no means unique in this context).

One of the most troubling impacts of Storm Arwen has been the lingering affect it has had on power supply in certain communities in Scotland and northern England. Winds of 98 mph brought down powerlines and a week on from the Storm over 4,700 homes remained without electricity. Short-term losses of power can be a frustrating inconvenience. Losing power for a week or more represents a more serious threat to social wellbeing, particularly during the winter months.

READ MORE: Storm Barra batters Wales

Just imagine not being able to boil a kettle, cook warm food, heat your home (gas and oil boilers generally require electricity to work), put the lights on, watch TV, have a hot bath or shower, or go online. In the future as we start to rely more on electric vehicles the loss of electrical power could be even more debilitating.

The effects of Storm Arwen on energy supply demonstrated a lack of resilience in our energy supply networks. To make this observation is not, necessarily, a criticism of companies like Northern Powergrid who worked around the clock to restore power to affected homes. This lack of resilience is the product of longer-term approaches to resource provision in economically advanced economies like the UK.

This is an approach based upon centralised systems of resource production and supply, which prioritise logistical efficiency and cost, over resilience. These methods are not only evident in the supply of energy, they can also be seen in food systems (notice our increasing reliance on a small number of supermarkets) and the Just-In-Time processes that now characterise the delivery of all kinds of goods and services to our homes. In more stable climatic times, prioritising efficiency of supply over security may have made sense, but climate change and extreme weather are likely to prompt a rethink.

Over the last decade resilience thinking has been on the rise. It first started in grassroots movements such as the Transition Culture initiative. Building a more resilient Wales is now one of the seven goals of the landmark Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (2015).

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Constructing a more resilient society involves diversifying the ways in which we produce and deliver things such as electrical power. It does not mean abandoning the National Grid, but it may involve re-localising energy supply and production, as we are now seeing with district energy networks. It may also include building more redundancy into our systems (through investment in community energy generators in remote areas, for example).

Beyond such practical measures, there is now discussion about the need for deep adaptation. Deep adaptation implies fundamental shifts in the ways in which we organize our lives to ensure that the impacts of climate change are managed more effectively. The costs of deep adaptation may be high, but the costs of not becoming more resilient will probably be higher.

Mark Whitehead is a Professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University. His research and teaching focus on issues of environmental sustainability and urban socio-ecological resilience.

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