Vulnerability information

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Vulnerability information

The transport sector is diverse and in multiple ways sensitive to different weather conditions. The severity of the impacts of winter weather depends on the type of winter conditions and level of vulnerability to these conditions.

Vulnerability is often determined by the exposure, sensitivity and coping capacity of a specified system (e.g. road network and its management) to a specific hazard (e.g. snowfall, frost or strong winds).

  • Exposure is defined as the nature and degree to which a system is exposed to significant climatic variations.
  • Sensitivity is the degree to which a system is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate variability or change.
  • ○ The coping capacity is regarded as the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences.

As part of the EUPORIAS project, a vulnerability assessment framework of the SPRINT prototype and the transport sector was established to identify and characterize sector-specific vulnerabilities to climate variability and change, in order to provide valuable information for decision makers with respect to the use of seasonal to decadal climate service products (to what extent can these products help to reduce these vulnerabilities?). Full detail can be found in the complete report.

As far as planning for extreme winter weather conditions is concerned, some parts of the sector will require information on coming conditions at different lead times, ranging from several months to only a few days in advance. An example is given below.

Example: road network and icy conditions


Vulnerability element Indicator of vulnerability element Examples
Exposure Differentiated spatial occurrence of frost days Local factors such as topography, slope/orientation, location in countryside or city, may influence the local temperature and humidity, and thus make the road more or less exposed to freezing conditions
Sensitivity Type of surface material; intensity of traffic

How sensitive is the road surface to cold conditions? Will ice form quickly? If porous (concrete), is it well drained and therefore less subject to freeze-thaw (and consequently cracks)?

Is it a heavily used motorway or a remote rural road?

Coping capacity Maintenance policies; de-icing policies

Does the authority in charge have rigorous policies in place for maintaining the road network, which include keeping the road surface in an appropriate condition? How frequently is maintenance carried out?

Does the authority in charge have rigorous policies in place for providing sufficient de-icing equipment (gritters) and material (salt)? How frequently is the road surface treated with salt?


Depending on vulnerability levels, icy conditions may or may not yield consequences such as road accidents, temporary speed restrictions, or road closures.

What weather/climate information is required and when?

In the event of icy roads, the decision-making process of the road sector implies:

  • ○ the operation of winter services like gritting;
  • ○ the management of the stock of de-icing material.

The former encompasses management of local salt stocks for the coming days and where/when to deploy gritting equipment. The knowledge of freezing temperatures is required at least a couple of hours in advance.
The latter is typically an issue handled before the winter season starts. Ideally, the knowledge of the likelihood of prolonged freezing temperatures is required 3 to 6 months in advance for pre-season restocking, and 1 to 3 weeks in advance for in-season restocking.


SPRINT provides information about the potential for weather impacts on UK transport ahead of (and during) the winter season.