What We Need To Learn From The Recent Floods

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The recent floods across NSW and Queensland have been described as a 1 in 1000 year flood.

But does this mean it’s a flood that happens once every 1000 years? Not quite.

The term actually refers to the height of the flood water and the chance of it occurring at the same location in any given year. This essentially means we can have a 1 in 500 year flood multiple times a year.

Dr Simon Bradshaw is the Research Director at The Climate Council and explained “what these statements like one in 500 years referred to is actually the probability of a particular event of that severity happening in any one year.”

Extreme weather events like the floods we’re seeing right now are only going to get worse.

That means these statements and probabilities of a ‘one in whatever’ year flood are becoming increasingly meaningless.

At the moment we have an atmosphere that is warmer, wetter and more energetic, mostly as a result of burning oil and gas.

Sadly the floods we’re currently experiencing align with the findings of the most recent IPCC report.

The report is a drop in a sea of evidence that scientists have been publishing for years to warn of the dangers greenhouse gases have on the Earth’s atmosphere.

“For decades now the world’s climate scientists have been warning of an increase in all extreme weather events, including extreme rainfall and flood risks,” said Dr Bradshaw.

“We have to be prepared for things to get worse over the next 20 years or so, particularly in terms of fire weather, extreme heat, rainfall and floods,” Dr Bradshaw also noted.

For communities who have been hit by the recent floods the prospect that this could get worse is simply unimaginable.

Sophie Marsh lives in Northern New South Wales and has described the floods as a “war zone.”

For Sophie and other members of the community it’s something they’ve never experienced before.

She told me, “it’s the feeling that you get driving down the street of somewhere like Lismore, where the entire street has mud up one and a half stories, there’s junk in front of every house. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The floods and the Black Summer bushfires have made it abundantly clear that we are living in a new reality.

Climate change is no longer a destination we’re getting to, unfortunately we have well and truly arrived. And it’s these communities on the frontlines who are experiencing the impacts firsthand.

“How do we assess rebuilding these towns? How do we house people in the meantime? How do we keep clean-up and demolition crews on the ground for the next two to three months? How can we make sure that the infrastructure is safe from mould?” said Sophie.

These communities have many questions that require answers and national leadership given crisis weather events like we’re seeing now are only going to increase in frequency.

Dr Bradshaw said, “I think first and foremost we need to have an acknowledgement from our national government on this. We have to understand the compounding role of climate change on everything we’re seeing and the crucially important steps.”

National leadership also helps provide answers to a lot of questions impacted communities have around support and what the future of their hometown looks like, something Sophie told me she is very frightened about.

“How are we gonna keep our local economy afloat? How do we look at erosion long term? We need to have solid plans and solid crisis teams that are able to be mobilised when they’re needed because we don’t wanna see any other community go through what we are going through.”