On average nothing is average

Less than 2 years ago in February 2009, I posted a blog on the Victorian bushfires. The hottest day and week on record preceded the fires and over 100 people died, for more see: Another dimension of PM responsibility

The Eastern states of Australia were at the end of a 10 year drought (although we did not know it then), and governments were committing $billions to desalination plants, pipelines and other water conservation measures and wondering if they would be completed in time to stop major cities running out of drinking water.

Fast forward 23 months and we have just experienced some of the wettest months on record. Unusually, the rain is persistent, heavy and widespread. The flooded areas extend more than 2000Km from Central Queensland to Victoria and the weather is not letting up for another two to three days at least. Dozens of people have died, 1000s of homes and businesses are damaged or destroyed, farms wiped out and food production disrupted. Similar but less extreme damage has also occurred in the North of West Australia. For more on the floods see: 24/7 Queensland floods info centre.  Any donations will be appreciated.

The extent of the devastation is worse than Hurricane Katrina and will have affects world-wide. The cost of a range of commodities will rise from sugar to coking coal. Within Australia fresh food prices are set to double as a result of the crops on vast areas of farmland being wiped out. And then there is the repair bill……

For over 100 years Australia has been known as a land of droughts and flooding rains summed up in the poem ‘My Country’ by Dorothea Mackellar:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
For the full poem see: http://www.imagesaustralia.com/mycountry.htm

What seems to be happening with the effects of global warming is the droughts are getting longer hotter and dryer and the ‘flooding rains’ more intense and widespread. Whilst ‘on average’ the rainfall of the last decade may only be a bit less then usual, and ‘on average’ the temperatures only a little higher than usual, the extremes are becoming far more damaging and far more common, and far less ‘normal average’ weather is occurring.

As these changes become better understood, there is likely to be major changes needed in the ways we live, work and manage risks; all of which will have a major impact on projects of all types and sizes. How do you make a sensible allowance for inclement weather when the mutually exclusive options are no rain for a year and a 10 foot deep flood across the site? The old weather data is almost meaningless.

This volatility seems to be extending into costs, exchange rates, and many other factors that used to be ‘reliably predicted’ even if confidence in the ‘reliable estimate’ was somewhat misplaced. The world is definitely changing, the management challenge is to keep up.

Whilst you are pondering this – click on the flood link above and donate. Wherever you live it may not be too long before you need the favour returned – even our ‘tough locals’ need help.

Nowhere to run (and nothing to eat)

I never thought I would feel sorry for a snake…

For more up-to-the-minute news see: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/01/12/3111441.htm

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