Originally published by Scimex – 13/05/22

There have been more than a dozen emergency alerts issued across Queensland, from North Burnett to the NSW border, as a severe trough that dumped heavy rain on the state’s north and west this week moves south. Below, Australian experts respond to the announcement.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre

Funder: N/A

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Kate Saunders is a Lecturer from the School of Mathematical Sciences in the Faculty of Science at the Queensland University of Technology

“For the second time this year, many residents across Queensland are facing flooding. One of these communities is the Grantham and Lockyer Valley region, where a siren is used to warn members of the community to evacuate. Understand the risk of back-to-back flood events like this occurring is important so we can increase resilience of our communities and help them prepare for the worst.

In the climate literature, we refer can refer to back-to-back events like this as a compound event, where the combination of two or more hazards create larger impacts than either extreme event could cause individually. For example, the impacts of the latest rainfall would be less severe if the river networks and catchments were not already primed from the rainfall and flooding in early February, and continuously wet conditions over the past few months.

Another important point here is that the language of 1 in X year event is completely useless. A 1 in X year event it only refers to the risk of flooding exceeding a given level in that year, not the risk of have two or more large events in the same year.  “

Last updated: 13 May 2022 2:02pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

None declared.

Professor Paula Jarzabkowski is a researcher in Strategic Management at the University of Queensland

“The current rainfall and flooding in Queensland is compounding the problem as some people are facing a second flood, before they may have been paid to address the losses from the first flood. Not only will they be unlikely to have insurance for a second event, but many aspect of the viability of their home as an asset will be further called into question. This kind of financial worry on top of the emotional distress caused as heavy rainfall continues will have a heavy toll on those directly affected, and on our community as a whole. It’s time to stop this cycle of destruction that is driving many people deeper into debt, and costing us all in clean up. We need to proactively work with communities on effective solutions that will see them service repeat flooding and extreme weather.

This flooding has exposed something we already knew, but had chosen to ignore. That Australia, one of the most prone countries to secondary disasters from climate change, like flood and bushfire, is also one of the most under-insured of comparable economies. Many Australians are uninsured or underinsured for flood because each time it floods, their premiums go up. At a certain level that becomes unaffordable so they take the risk of going without insurance. That’s not a risk that they as individuals can afford. Each time an uninsured property floods, society has to pay to help those people make good. At the same time, the wealth and viability of those owners to contribute economically to society is reduced. There are very sound reasons to start pooling these risks across society – and using the data developed in the pool, to inform better disaster resilience of properties. There are other models worldwide we can learn from about successful risk pooling and resilience. We need to act now. “

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:51pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

My research on the changing nature of terrorism risk is partially funded by The Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation

Andrew Gissing is an emergency management expert with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and General Manager of Resilience at Risk Frontiers

“Flooding again is impacting South East Queensland and Northern NSW. Since November 2021 when La Niña commenced there have been at least 41 lives tragically lost.  Many of these deaths were preventable as they involved decisions to enter floodwater. Two-thirds of incidents were vehicle-related. There needs to be a further focus on holistic strategies to address the risks associated with motorists entering floodwater which include behaviour, regulatory, structural and emergency response measures. Floodwaters can be difficult to judge no matter how experienced someone is. It is best not to take the risk.P eople in flooded areas should follow the advice of emergency services and not enter floodwater.”

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:43pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

Andrew has not declared any conflicts of interest.

Dr Amy Peden is a Research Fellow from the School of Population Health at the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney)

“Queensland has recently recorded its 15th flood-related motorist fatality this year. With heavy rainfall continuing, it’s vital we reiterate why driving into floodwaters is so dangerous. The depth and speed of the water is difficult to judge and just 20cm of water is all it takes for a car to become unstable.

You don’t know the quality of the road base underneath, edges may have become unstable, or the entire road may have been washed away. And driving into floodwaters puts your life, the lives of your passengers and the lives of your rescuers at risk. We urge motorists to make a Plan B to avoid the pressures of needing to drive into floodwaters.”

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:42pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

Amy declares that she has no conflicts of interest.

Dr Agus Santoso is a senior scientist from the Climate Change Centre at the University of New South Wales and an adjunct science leader at CSIRO

“The ongoing wet conditions, amid the back-to-back La Niña events since late 2020, has again unfortunately led to flooding. La Niña’s condition is currently still present in the Pacific Ocean. Another factor conducive to more rainfall over the eastern board is the warmer sea surface around Australia, including in the eastern Indian Ocean. 

Climate models predict this Pacific La Niña to weaken in winter. However, they also raise a prospect for a negative Indian Ocean Dipole to develop in winter and strengthen into spring. This ‘Indian Ocean La Niña’, marked by warmer-than-normal eastern Indian Ocean could prolong wet condition months ahead.”

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:41pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

Agus has not declared any conflicts of interest.

Dr Adrian McCallum is a Senior Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering at the University of the Sunshine Coast

“This event is different in nature to the one that South-East Queensland experienced earlier this year.
That was due to an atmospheric river pumping moisture in from the ocean at low level.
This event is from a surface trough that has moved from the west; rainfall has been locally enhanced due to the presence of an upper atmospheric feature, that essentially encourages greater upwards movement of air, resulting in greater rainfall. 
Misalignment of these features into the future should result in an easing of conditions.”

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:40pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

Adrian has declared that he has no conflicts of interest.

Professor Jennifer McKay is a researcher in Business Law from the University of South Australia

“There is a duty of care to not expose citizens to predicable natural disaster flood and fires.

Human settlement in Australia has ignored the environment but with climate change, that will no longer be viable and will provoke citizens to take court actions. The lesson of  Australian litigation is to impose a novel duty on decision-makers to take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to children. This is like a new civil wrong. There is activism afoot in Australia widely and this is likely to support this change and bring new words into decision-makers such as nature positive.

The law has innovated in this new duty and I believe that many in the community want a better set of processes to support longer-term thinking on floods and fires and to not expose emergency services personnel to risks.”

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:39pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

Jennifer has declared that she has no conflicts of interest.

Dr Annie Lau is a Lecturer from the School of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Queensland

“The severe weather event in Queensland is caused by a large upper-level low (low-pressure system), the same type of system that flooded SE Queensland ten weeks ago but with differences in the location and size. Continuous rain across catchments has added a significant amount of water to rivers and reservoirs, bringing up the river levels across southern Queensland. In areas on the lower reaches of rivers, river levels also fluctuate with the tide. For this reason, the Brisbane River near the Brisbane CBD peaked around 7 am this morning and can be expected to peak again at 8 pm tonight. The amount of water that travels down the river in the next hours will determine whether the peak tonight will surpass this morning’s water level.”

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:37pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

Annie has declared that she has no conflicts of interest.

Associate Professor Iftekhar Ahmed is from the School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Newcastle

“Queensland and NSW are repeatedly being impacted by a recurring spate of floods. There is a lot of discussion on the linkage of these events to climate change. While much of the discussion points to the probable increasing frequency, magnitude and intensity of such hydrometeorological events, the unpredictability of climate change impacts, their transforming nature, and compound and cascading effects are less well understood. For example, this year because of La Niña the rainfall has been extensive, which is compounding the effects of climate change. Such heavy rainfall at this time of the year is unseasonal and the effects of La Niña are expected to persist well into the winter season. A cycle of disaster after disaster induced by advancing climate change renders each cycle of lessons gained redundant, posing difficulty in translating the lessons when newly established knowledge thresholds are breached. 

These events are therefore a signal for preparedness at all levels – institutional and community, not only for the short term, but a long term, anticipatory and systems approach. We will need to learn how to live with floods by building our resilience and adaptive capacity, and perhaps even explore new opportunities within the changing circumstances.”

Last updated: 13 May 2022 1:36pm

Declared conflicts of interest:

Iftekhar has declared that he has no conflicts of interest.