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Observing London

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photo credit Anny Zade

photo credit Anny Zade

Observing London

Efforts to compile data from hundreds of weather stations across the capital are underway. What story will they tell? (source: Lloyd’s of London)

The London and Lloyd’s insurance market is famous for its ability to analyse and insure properties and other assets against natural perils around the world. When a hurricane, earthquake, flood or other natural event occurs, insurance companies help manage the risk by compensating those affected and helping communities rebuild and get back on their feet.

A city responsible for providing so much expertise in global catastrophe risk should, therefore, have an in-depth understanding of its own local climate and vulnerabilities.

Thanks to a new initiative by the London Climate Change Partnership (LCCP) in partnership with the Met Office and Lloyd’s, London is set to improve how it collects and uses weather data across the capital.

The new report: Observing London: Weather data needed for London to thrive, published on 17 July, details how the initiative will provide economic benefits in areas such as flood management, transportation and building design.

The bigger picture

A more complete view of London’s climate will also be of benefit to insurance companies. “Lloyd’s is sponsoring this report as we believe that the creation of a single accessible source for weather data in London will help a number of different stakeholders across the city and not least insurers, ” says Lloyd’s manager of emerging risks and research Neil Smith.

“As highlighted in the report, if we can ensure the continuity of weather stations to facilitate the study of extremes and London’s longer-term climate, this will greatly help our understanding of the impacts and frequency of severe storms, heat waves and floods over longer periods.”

The report surveyed various stakeholders on the current use and collection of weather data in London. It details the impressive array of weather data collection devises currently dotted around the city, on rooftops, at roadsides, in parks and gardens and even at airports.

Despite the potential wealth of information available through around 260 stations measuring rainfall, temperature and air quality among other things, an opportunity is being lost.

“Weather observations in the capital have come a long way since recordings began in 1659 and there is now a wealth of information collected from around 260 weather stations across the city, ” says LCCP chair Professor Chris Rapley CBE. “What needs to happen now is that this data needs to be more accessible and stored in a central location – an online data portal.”

“Better and more accessible data will increase our understanding of local weather patterns, enabling us to act to ensure London is thriving and resilient to today’s climate, and tomorrow’s.”

In terms of the resilience needed to enable a city to thrive, observations of the intensity, frequency and location of catastrophes such as storms and floods are also essential for designing buildings and for developing risk transfer solutions.

Flood vulnerability

Public consultation is currently underway on Flood Re, the UK government and insurance industry’s proposed solution to providing cover for properties in areas of high flood risk. Such a flood insurance scheme would be one important beneficiary of better data quality for local London weather.

Flood Re is a not-for-profit fund that will be run by the ABI to cover the cost of flood claims from high-risk homes and businesses. It is designed to deal with the predicted level of flooding with the UK government stepping in to help cover losses in exceptional circumstances. It is expected to be up and running in 2015.

Flood risk has been a concern in the capital for a long time given the numerous sources of flooding in the Thames Valley, including tidal, river, surface water, sewer overflows and groundwater.

One in four London properties, collectively worth around £250bn, is at risk of flooding, according to an as-yet unpublished report from the Environment Agency, seen by the Guardian. It shows that ten of the top 25 most at-risk local authority areas across England and Wales are now London boroughs.

Improved rainfall data would assist with flood forecasting in the future, as well as help with the sizing of pipework for future design. In addition to rainfall, other variables (radiation etc) would be useful for hydrological modelling, according to the Observing London report.

Scenarios of particular concern to insurers include those involving extreme storm surges that overwhelm existing defences. Climate scientists involved in the UN IPCC’s Ice-2-Sea programme are currently considering the threat posed by rising sea levels to such scenarios.




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