British Columbia rocked by climate disaster

State of emergency declared after ‘atmospheric river’ dumped record-setting rain

Last week, record-setting precipitation and what government officials are calling a once-in-500-year flood shook the province. On Nov. 17, an uncharacteristically intense atmospheric river crippled industry, destroyed transportation networks and severed families.

Climate scientists point to ‘perfect storm conditions’ in which certain ecological concerns such as wildfires, drought, and early snow, are jointly to blame in conjunction with last weeks’ atmospheric river.

Atmospheric rivers or ‘rivers in the sky’ are relatively common and make landfall in B.C. up to 30 times within a year. Huge columns of air within the atmosphere carry water vapour across oceans to more so temperate areas such as B.C. and are known for the massive amounts of precipitation they typically dump once making landfall.

These systems are typically less than worrisome and can even be beneficial for certain ecosystems.

But, when atmospheric rivers are more so intense and dump huge amounts of water on areas over extended periods of time, they can become dangerous; as seen last week.

In B.C., drought conditions, soil shifting due to numerous wildfires, and thin snowpack which began to melt within the mountains created the right scenario for landslides and major floods. Last week’s climate disaster caused serious concern, as B.C. seems to be at the epicentre of climate change come to fruition.

British Columbians have devastatingly become more so uncustomed to extreme weather events caused by climate change and the evacuation orders that come with these kinds of events. Just this past year, BC communities navigated an intense heat dome which sadly killed hundreds and numerous, severe wildfires that raged throughout the Interior and Okanogan all summer long.

Although B.C. is no stranger to disaster, province officials have yet to use the national straight-to-your-cellphone emergency system known as Alert Ready to warn citizens of imminent extreme weather. British Columbians have questioned the lack of initiative.

Statistics show B.C.has never used the Alert Ready technology since it became available back in 2018. In comparison, Saskatchewan and Alberta have sent 101 and 80 alerts over the last two years while Ontario has used the system more than 200 times.

B.C. had planned to reserve the emergency alert system solely for tsunamis leading to many emergencies unannounced within the last two years.

Emergency alerts were not sent this summer during the week-long heat dome that broke records, leaving British Columbians without air conditioning and the homeless vulnerable.

Emergency alerts were not sent before or during the devastating fires that consumed the tiny town of Lytton days into that same heat dome. And, alerts were not sent this past week during record-setting precipitation and imminent floods.

Because of B.C.’s strategy concerning the Alert Ready system, certain municipalities including Kamloops have had to come up with their own local text alert systems, but these systems do not have the same power as Alert Ready and often fail when community members need them most.

After facing criticism in the legislature last Thursday, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province will start using the technology next spring and summer.