Riders On The Storm

Updated: August 29, 2019

The diversity of Australian climates means that landscape construction works are susceptible to being affected by weather events such as snow, cold temperature, extreme heat, humidity, severe winds, and rainfall. This winter is going to be no different to any other, which means storms, extreme cold in some regions, and most problematic, the closing down of construction sites due to weather events. These closings of construction projects can lead to schedule delays, potential change order requests and ultimately claims in some cases.

For a landscape contractor to justify to the client that there is indeed a weather-related construction delay, they must be able to demonstrate four specific things:

  1. The delay is within the terms of the contract
  2. The activity delayed had a direct effect on the project end date
  3. The weather event occurred in excess of the ‘normal’ weather for the season
  4. There is documentation of which specific activities were delayed on each weather occurrence

Every landscape construction contract is unique, but most projects will experience a weather event of some sort, and allowances should be made in the contract to outline just what to do when this occurs. For large commercial construction projects, the delay clause will usually define two things: exactly what a contractor will get if a weather delay occurs; this could be a time extension only, which is non-compensable i.e. no addition to the contract price.

Or time and monetary damages, which are defined as a compensable delay, or it may be a combination of the two after a certain number of days. The contract should clearly dictate the compensability of any delays and this will also depend on the importance of the completion date or other factors. There will usually also be a requirement in the contract for the landscape contractor to provide notice of the delay within a certain time period of any delay occurring. This requirement also varies with the contract; however, it is always in the contractor’s best interest to provide a client with formal notice of a weather delay as soon as there is any potential to be one.

The uncertainty of winter and the extreme heat of summer in some regions is a good reason for contractors and clients to be proactive on scheduling works. Delays caused by weather conditions are beyond the contractor’s control and cannot be foreseen at the time of bidding for a contract. Delays are a common problem on construction sites and can be costly.

All parties should have a clear understanding of the approach to delay claims as a result of any abnormal weather event. By working together to establish a baseline schedule approved with a conclusive critical path and establishing procedures on how to approach a weather event by documenting all potential delays, will alleviate any potential conflict between client and contractor due to weather delays.

Analysing the potential or predicting delays associated with weather events is an integral part of project planning. To some extent this can be akin to having a crystal ball, however, there are many software programs and the readily available access to historical climatic data that can make a prediction of estimated delays or down days due to weather events, a lot simpler and more accurate than first appears. Weather forecasting involves a high degree of uncertainty that makes it very difficult for contractors to ensure that assumptions made at the time of prediction will in fact occur. Consideration also needs to be applied in that different kinds of weather conditions have different degrees of impact on various construction activities. Taking into account site-specific characteristics such as gradient and soil type, for example, the impact of weather events on achieving project milestones could be significant.

Fail To Plan, Plan To Fail

A simplistic approach to planning for potential adverse weather events is to determine the sensitivity of site activities in relation to the predicted weather event. In the June/July 2018 edition of Landscape Contractor Magazine, we discussed the benefits of utilising project management software applications. Some of these applications provide the contractor with the ability to incorporate downtime such as rain days into the project schedule. In the absence of such applications, a simple Gantt chart and table can be constructed to assist in the predictability and impact on construction works. Understanding local seasonal climatic conditions and site-specific activities, contractors can at least plan for potential impacts at various stages of construction for each season. Even without the use of software applications an understanding of local climatic variations across the year can assist with predicting potential down days. There will be a local variation to the potential number of days and time of year that precipitation occurs. A quick search of reputable internet weather sites such as the Australian Bureau of Metrology can provide contractors with valuable information to assist in down day predictions.

The data provided in the above table needs deeper analysis to determine what months contractors can expect the majority of rain days to occur. With that information, it is more likely scheduled works can be planned to take into account when there is a higher probability of rain days. For example, in Sydney, the average number of rain days per year is 150 with the wettest month being March and the driest month of July. With an average of 12.5 days per month where rainfall will exceed more than 1mm, a pattern begins to appear and predictions for wet weather become more accurate. A breakdown of the works activity schedule can assist contractors in identifying those activities that are most likely to be impacted by weather events and determine the anticipated delay for each activity can be based on the different kinds of weather predicted for each month and the sensitivity of any given activity according to weather conditions. Excavation activities, for example, would have a high sensitivity to rainfall, therefore based on probability if earthworks were scheduled to occur over a 10-day period there is a chance that works may be disrupted due to rain by approximately two days in any given month. When planning activities, the work schedule and such delays should be taken into account.

The Silver Lining

While there can be no certainty that any prediction or allowance of down days whether using sophisticated project planning software or simple climatic analysis, planning for down days, is essential. Planning is not an exact science when it comes to weather, climate is a fickle beast and, in a time, when the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events become more common, contractors need to be prepared. Be alert not alarmed and make hay while the sun shines as there are storm clouds on the horizon but if you have planned for the inevitable you can weather the storm.