Friday, 3 July 2020

Does your place of residence make you immune from climate calamity? I think not! (Opinion)

by Larry Powell

UPDATE...The Rivers dam mentioned in this story has now been declared by government engineers to be safe.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard one of my fellow "prairie dogs" remark, how "lucky" or how "blessed" we are to be spared the kind of brutal weather that may be pummelling another part of the country or the world at the time.

Occasionally, I'll try to remind them, we've already experienced disastrous conditions in our own "neck of the woods" (the eastern prairies) in recent years. They seem either unaware of what I say, or believe they're nothing worse than we've ever had. 

So are they or aren't they? 

The examples I list below (starting last fall up to the present) are extreme weather events which have broken records or are unprecedented in the human record.  They come, not from this writer's brain, but from Environment Canada, the body of record on such matters. (Emphases mine.)
Disastrous conditions meant an estimated million tonnes of crop
on the prairies, like this field of canola, had to sit out over winter.
A PinP photo.
"Last Thanksgiving Day weekend (2019), Manitobans were still drying out from record September rains, nearly three times the norm. Farmers were especially concerned but, after a relatively dry first week of October, they once again started up their combines and resumed round-the-clock harvesting. They were keeping an eye on a pending well-announced weather system. The storm sat over the region for days. Heavy, sticky snows draped Manitoba from Brandon to Winnipeg from October 10 to 12 and through the Thanksgiving weekend. 

"Historic snowfall totals included 34 cm at Winnipeg over two days, making it the biggest October snowstorm in the city since records began in 1872. States of emergency were declared across the province and in eleven communities, including Winnipeg. More than 6,000 people had to evacuate from a dozen or more First Nations communities. Lengthy and widespread power outages created hardship. Powerful winds exceeding 80 km/h drove the wet snow, creating blinding blizzards and two-metre drifts. In some cases, transmission towers toppled, downing total electrical grids. 

"According to Manitoba Hydro, at the peak of the storm, a quarter of a million people were without power, making it the largest outage in the utility’s history. Ten days later, about 5,000 were still without power. By the end of November, there were still some citizens who could not yet return to their homes." (Hydro has estimated damage at some $100 million.)

"The storm’s early arrival in October meant tree branches, still loaded with leaves, were bending. Many of Winnipeg’s trees saw damage and loss under the weight of the snow. Over 30,000 trees on public land were affected, with estimates of thousands more on private land. The Manitoba escarpment in Morden, Winkler, and Carberry also saw between 50 and 75 cm of snow."

Fast forward to this week. 
   
The spillway at the Rivers dam in SW MB. A Govt. of MB photo.

Severe thunderstorms, torrential rain, winds of over 100kmh and at least one tornado, tore through wide areas of the province, including the City of Brandon. Torrents of water cascaded over the dam on the Little Saskatchewan River near the southwestern Town of Rivers. Fearing a structural failure, the provincial government called for the evacuation of livestock and several residents below it. "The Manitoba government does not have confidence in the Rivers Dam," it declared in its official news release.

Here are more direct quotes from the government news release, issued just two days ago.

"The recommended evacuation comes as a weather system has brought significant precipitation in the past 72 hours in southwest and western Manitoba. Some areas have received record-high precipitation of more than 200 millimetres during this period. It has caused water levels to rise in rivers and creeks in these areas."

I can only long for the day when I hear my friends and neighbours - while talking about the weather - begin saying things like this:"You know, it looks like those climate scientists were right! If we don't do something about the greenhouse gas emissions we are producing in our everyday lives - and find different ways of doing things - things will only get worse. Matter of fact - it looks like they already are!"

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