Image: Hurricane Sandy by Gordontarpley.
Infrastructure is, by design, largely unnoticed until it breaks and service fails. It is the water supply, the gas lines, bridges and dams, phone lines and cell towers, roads and culverts, train lines and railways, and the electric grid; all of the complex systems that keep our society and economy running. Engineers typically design systems to withstand reasonable worst-case conditions based on historical records; for example, an engineer builds a bridge strong enough to withstand floods based on historical rainfall and flooding. But what happens when the worst case is no longer bad enough?
From September 2012 until March 2013, Australia sweltered. And burned.
The worst heat wave recorded in the continent’s history sent temperatures soaring well over 100°F for weeks. Fires spread along the coasts and across Tasmania. In the Outback, roads melted.
News reports called it the “angry summer.” It was so bad that it literally changed the map: meteorologists had to add two new color bands to their maps on the evening weather reports, to go up to 130°.
So Australians turned on the air conditioning.