How can we prepare for extreme weather in Sheffield?

As I write this it’s 30 degrees outside and I’m sweltering. Extreme heat is very debilitating, and for some can be fatal, especially if it continues for several days.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 12:00 am

Heat can cause dehydration and heatstroke. Over the course of several days, extreme heat affects the internal organs and puts extra strain on the cardiovascular system. The kidney, liver, heart, brain, and lungs can be affected, which can result in renal failure, heart attack, stroke, among other potential causes of mortality.

During the heatwave please keep out of the sun, drink lots of water and check in on any vulnerable friends and neighbours.

We can expect far more extreme heat in the future as the climate continues to overheat. Examples recently from Western Canada have been extremely frightening. The town of Lytton didn’t just break its hottest temperature record- it smashed it to pieces. Meteorologist Bob Henson tweeted: “Prior to this week, Canada's all-time high was 113oF. Now it's 121.3°F. That's a 21 per cent increase in the all-time high!” It’s a bit like someone beating the Olympic high jump record of 2.39m, not just by 1cm but by 50cm, jumping 2.89m.

View of a damaged bridge over the river Ahr in the city of Altenahr, Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany.

What followed in Lytton was of course the wildfire, which almost totally destroyed the town.

Lots of people mistakenly believe climate change will be gradual. It won’t be. We can expect more sudden and massively disturbing changes to weather around the world. As feedback loops kick in, disasters will follow, making whole countries uninhabitable.

Last week saw the hottest temperature ever recorded on this planet. 130oF (54oC) in the appropriately named Death Valley.

In Europe we have seen catastrophic floods, turning small rivers into torrents reaching the third floor of buildings. The latest death toll in Germany and Belgium is 180 as I write. Meanwhile horrendous floods in Uganda went unreported.

People out enjoying the sun in Sheffield as temperatures hit the high 20 degrees

Gone are the days when we have to say “you can’t attribute one weather event to climate change.” These events are so extreme and so obviously way out of statistical norms, it is perfectly clear that they have been caused by climate change- just as climate scientists have been predicting for many years.

So how should we react to them in Sheffield? We have to be more prepared for extreme weather. We are well aware of the damage flooding can cause, but we need to do far more to help prevent future disasters. It was very pleasing to see news this week of the £183,000 plan to plant more trees across Sheffield. Trees are brilliant at both providing shade and cooling to cities in a heatwave and preventing flooding. We need far more of this! Also it was pleasing to see plans for active neighbourhoods in Crookes and Nether Edge, making it easier and safer to cycle into town, to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

Better flood defences may be needed in some places, but usually this moves the problem further downstream, as the residents of Fishlake can testify. So we need to be planting thousands of trees upstream of the rivers to provide more natural flood defence. Why not reintroduce beavers to make dams to hold back the waters?

In the city we need to continue to turn grey to green. We need green roofs on city buildings and bus shelters to help absorb the torrential rain when it falls, and more permeable surfaces instead of concrete so the water doesn’t run straight into the sewers and overwhelm them. Some work undoubtedly needs to be done to increase the capacity of our drains. To protect from heatwaves we must ensure all homes and workplaces are well insulated.

Heavy rain in Sheffield.

Even if we implement all this, there will be no defence if we experience something on the scale Germany has just gone through. So we also need to up our game when it comes to a local emergency response plan. We need to involve citizens, so when a catastrophe occurs at least people are prepared to start to deal with it.

I hope the awful events in Canada and Germany will convince Sheffielders this is an emergency.