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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 16:31 GMT
Did the 'Great Storm' catch us out?

As Britain tries to recover from the "Great Storm of 2000", many people are asking why bad weather can still bring parts of the nation to a standstill?

A spot of rain, a flake of snow, a gust of wind and Britain's daily routine goes straight out the window.

Or so many of us like to think, when our trains are cancelled or as we sit in a queue of traffic.

Flooded roads in Somerset
"You're not bringing those wet boots on my bus."
However, the sneaking suspicion that other countries are better than us at responding to inclement weather may not hold much water.

Edmund Penning-Rowsell, head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre, says there is little evidence to show the UK's preparations are lacking.

"We're more prepared for floods than many countries. Our warning systems are better practised and better implemented."

Britons, he says, are not short of up-to-date information on potential flooding.

The rain in Spain

Professor Penning-Rowsell has found countries such as Spain and Portugal are less ready to deal with heavy rains than the UK.

Even the low-lying Netherlands, where flood planning is a "national priority", does not react to rising waters any more efficiently than the UK.

Stranded vehicles in Spain
Floods hit other countries too
"People may think it's been a chaotic few days, but I don't think there have been any deficiencies in our emergency planning."

If there has been bad planning, it may have been the recent trend of building on flood plains - putting more homes and roads in harm's way.

Professor Penning-Rowsell says the recent gales brought both flooding and storm damage: "We got hit harder."

Perhaps hit harder than we do most years, says Professor Stuart Cole from the University of North London's Transport Research and Consultancy.

Preparing for the worst

"We're not used to it, that's why our transport network was affected so badly."

Angry commuters may suggest the transport companies were caught out by the storm, but Professor Cole says such events are expected.

Closed railway, Polmont, Scotland
The storm brought more travel delays
"We don't prepare for such storms because it would cost so much to prepare. You have to balance the cost of delays when a big storm hits to the cost of work to prevent disruption."

If severe gales battered the UK on a more regular basis, he says, the balance would tip in favour of expensive precautions.

"Occasionally we get a lot of snow and everything grinds to a halt. In central Europe and Scandinavia, they get prolonged snow falls each winter and everything keeps running."

These countries invest in keeping their tracks, roads and vehicles free from snow and ice.

Snow messing about

"They buy the necessary equipment and know how to use it," says Professor Cole.

Of course, the weather has a habit of foiling even the best laid plans.

Snow storm in Kansas
"I see the White House! I think."
Washington DC, capital of one of the world's richest and most technologically advanced nations, is no stranger to the odd cold snap.

Despite having a stockpile of 90,000 tons of salt and sand, city bosses were taken by surprise when snow arrived on the roads last January.

Unforecast showers coated the city's main arteries in a "slick glaze", bringing rush hour traffic to a crawl.

So what sort of snowfall could paralyse such a metropolis? Six-foot Siberian drifts? No. Just a measly 0.4 inches.

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See also:

31 Oct 00 | UK
Flood alert as wind drops
30 Oct 00 | UK
You think this is bad?
12 Oct 00 | UK
Turning back the tide
31 Oct 00 | Europe
Ten dead in European storms
31 Oct 00 | UK
More delays for travellers
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