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S2/2010Y The storms of July-August 2010

The storms of July-August 2010

A period of damage-causing storms began in Finland at the end of July 2010. All storms occurring during this period were linked to the same large-scale weather pattern. From early July to mid-August, Finland had exceptionally warm temperatures. At the end of July, the Finnish Meteoro-logical Institute reported alarming weather developments. Notwithstanding such warnings, the media and populace focused their attention on record-high temperatures. The storms Asta, Veera, Lahja and Sylvi moved across a wide area of Finland, but lasted only a few dozen minutes in each locale. This weather phenomenon was characterised by high winds, rain and, in some places, hail as well as thunderstorms.

Finland has rarely been affected by weather phenomena causing significant damage. This largely explains why various actors did not have operating models in place enabling them to react to severe weather warnings. It is also why measures were only taken in the wake of the damage caused by the Asta storm.

The most severe property damage was caused by exceptionally strong downbursts during the night. These downbursts struck clearly definable geographical areas. According to eyewitnesses, the storm arrived so quickly that only a few dozen seconds were available to react or seek cover. For this reason, on the basis of weather alerts, both citizens and, to an extent, the authorities had difficulty in grasping what these storms meant in practice. It is not possible to forecast the precise geographic area affected by such downbursts.

The storms of July-August 2010 were the direct cause of one death and several dozen injuries in Finland. Most of these injuries occurred when people were struck by items and structures blown around by the storm gusts, or were injured by falling trees or slipping. Some were injured in the clearance and repair work following the storms. Forest damage accounted for the severest material damage. According to an estimate by the Finnish Forest Research Institute Metla, a total of approximately 8.1 million cubic metres of standing timber fell or was destroyed. Furthermore, the storms caused significant damage to the built environment.

As a result of the forest damage, electric power networks, and particularly distributing networks, were destroyed in the storm impact areas, particularly in Eastern and Central Finland. A total of some 35,000 kilometres of electric power network were destroyed or damaged. Consequently, nearly 9,000 distribution substations were left without electricity. Clarification of the damage to networks and repair work amounted to nearly 200,000 hours (over 120 man-years). Power cuts and their consequences were more widespread than the immediate storm areas, affecting about a third of Finland's electricity network companies and just over 480,000 electricity customers. In many places, the extent of network damage and consequent major repair needs led to rather long power cuts. The longest individual power cuts lasted around six weeks.

The long power cuts caused significant disturbance to other functions vital to society, such as communications networks, and the water supply and transport infrastructure. In many places, the consequences of the storm lastingly and significantly complicated the everyday lives of citizens. Marked hindrances and obstacles were experienced in travel, work, trade, housing, daily chores, maintaining contact and receiving help.

An up-to-date situational picture is a prerequisite for successful decision-making and management. Various actors in damage areas are dependent on situational information they receive from each other. Rescue departments require information from electricity network companies and telecommunications companies regarding areas where disturbances in power supply and communi-cations networks occur, and on how long the problems might last. Based on this information, citizens can be given directions on how to act in an emergency situation.

In addition to general situational information provided by rescue departments, emergency re-sponse centres require situational information on telecommunications companies and electricity network companies. The police need situational information from rescue departments and emergency response centres, in order to maintain sufficient alertness and operate in co-operation with the rescue authorities. During the storms, the rescue departments were unable to maintain a situ-ational picture serving various authorities and other actors.

Electricity network companies and telecommunications companies require situational information from rescue departments and road keepers on progress made in tree clearance work, and when certain portions of roads will be in order. These matters affect the speed at which problems with power supply and communications networks can be fixed. At the moment, telecommunications companies have no standard practices on the reception of automatic situational information from electricity companies on disturbances in power supply and progress with repair work.

Municipalities indicated a need for information from electricity companies and rescue departments in particular. In addition, they emphasised the need for continuous contact between the municipality's technical services and various public and private nursing and service facilities. Even in the worst storm damage areas, municipalities' management groups convened only in rare cases. This demonstrated better-than-average readiness for the management of disturbances in municipalities which had agreed to collaborate with the rescue department in alerting their management groups. Such municipalities had also developed the management capabilities of key people and made other arrangements in support of management during disruptions.

Rescue service operations during the storms showed insufficient practical readiness for the management of situations with far-reaching effects. Furthermore, rescue departments and their con-tract fire brigades carried out plenty of tree clearance work following the storms in July–August 2010. This is not included in rescue operations as defined under the Rescue Act, but was vital to normalising the situation.

As a result of the investigation, a total of 14 recommendations have been issued to improve safe-ty and develop preparedness for serious natural disasters. These recommendations concern the preparedness of electricity network companies, telecommunications companies and water supply and sewerage plants; reliability of electric power networks; distribution and distinctness of VAARA weather warning bulletins; procedures at emergency response centres in backlog situations; the rescue services' responsibilities and the management of rescue operations in extensive accidents; alerting of key people in municipalities and communications during accidents; clearance of electric lines, communications networks and traffic routes; compilation and distribution of national situational updates, including on disruptions within the electric power system and the business sector; and making use of organisations during serious disturbances.


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Published 8.7.2010