It’s been a year of weather to remember – or forget – in BC. As I was writing this, another atmospheric river was tracking toward the south coast. At the same time thousands of homeowners, businesspeople, and farmers in Abbotsford, Princeton, Merritt, and other affected communities had barely had a chance to ponder recovering from the damage caused by the November 12 weekend rain event and catastrophic flooding that have so far claimed at least six people. In some places, a month’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours.
In late June and early July, the heat dome broke all time temperature records in Canada and is being blamed for more than 600 deaths. It led to volatile forest conditions and fires like the one that incinerated Lytton so fast residents barely had time to jump in their vehicles and escape. Sadly, two people died in Lytton. This dangerous fire was one of many that cast a cloud of choking smoke over much of BC throughout July and August, destroying houses and property in places like Monte Lake, Fintry, and elsewhere.
Then there was the tornado that touched down on Point Grey in Vancouver on November 5 – the first one in the Lower Mainland in 50 years.
The human toll and tragic loss of life is sobering. “Heat dome” and “atmospheric river” have suddenly become meteorological catchphrases. And one thing we have all learned in 2021, is that we are woefully unprepared for extreme weather. It’s no longer adequate for government to fall back on the excuse that these are unprecedent times. Climate experts have been sounding the alarm for years that we can expect more, not fewer, of these types of events, whether it’s an extreme flood or fast-moving forest fire. You need look no further for an example of how unprepared we are as the outdated flood plain maps that the province relies on. Most were created between 20 and 40 years ago, and since then cities have grown and the climate has changed.
That’s why resiliency needs to be top of mind, if we have any hope of avoiding the kind of damage and destruction left in the wake of this year’s fires and floods. And there’s much work to be done. For example, it means no longer building in flood prone areas, and in some cases, perhaps buying out property owners so they can relocate to safer areas. Fire-proofing communities and managing our forests for biodiversity not as monoculture tree farms susceptible to disease and fire is also critical. Government needs to overhaul coordination, communication, and planning in anticipation of well forecasted rain and flood events, as was the case when meteorologists predicted the massive rains that turned Abbotsford into a lake and Merritt into a river two weeks ago.
Yup, climate change is real. Here in BC we’re feeling it in a big way. It’s going to take next level leadership to help make our communities, transportation infrastructure, and supply chains safe into the future.