Weather Emergencies

While local authorities have maintenance plans in place, the seasons inadvertently cause problems that are impossible to predict.  Extreme weather can create dangerous road conditions at any time of the year, causing collisions and other accidents. Emergencies will still disrupt the highway network at some point, so contingency plans, risk assessments and emergency response teams are the only way to prepare for any future problems.

Climate adaptation is increasingly becoming an area of importance for those who manage the highways asset.  More information can be found on the Climate Adaptation page of this website.
A typical HTMA member company will be fully equipped and prepared to deal with weather emergencies, such as heavy snowfall, severe flooding or trees blown down due to gale force winds. Although severe weather warnings from the Met Office can help them prepare for such emergencies, some potential problems are impossible to predict.As well as highway authorities, police have traditionally dealt with unplanned incidents and emergencies on roads such as collisions and accidents. However, under the Traffic Management Act 2004 some of the police’s operations were transferred to the Traffic Officer Service, giving the Highways Agency and their contractors the responsibility to close lanes and carriageways, and stop and direct traffic.


Highway authorities are responsible for keeping highways free of flooding that could affect the road or highway user.  When a highway floods it not only causes a hazard for drivers and can result in a road being closed off, it can also damage the actual structure of the road.  It is therefore essential that the risk of flooding is built into maintenance plans in order for authorities to effectively tackle the emergency when, and if, it arises.

When assessing the potential risk of flooding the following issues should be considered:• A risk assessment should be made for any new road

  • Alternative routes need to be established in case of flooding, especially for use by the emergency services
  • The capability of bridge openings and culverts to deal with predicted levels of flooding needs to be assessed
  • Flood protection should be improved where possible.


Much of the planned road maintenance work is carried out in the summer months, whilst also being a time of increased traffic on the networks.
Hot summers can create problems for motorists and highway authorities alike. In prolonged hot conditions road surface temperatures may heat up and cause the bituminous material in the road’s construction to soften.  Eventually, it can become so soft that it starts to become unstable and sticky.  In the worst cases the bitumen can even become liquid, requiring treatment to avoid severe problems.  Often stone dust is applied to the surface of these ‘melted’ roads, to stabilise the surface and to prevent further problems.

Power cuts

In prolonged cold spells, there is the possibility that disruption may be caused to power supplies.  In terms of highways this can cut power to traffic signals, street lights and control systems.  Although local authorities are unable to assist with the restoration of power, it is imperative that contingency plans are in place to deal with such an emergency.