Climate experts weigh in on flood in the heart of oil country

Screenshot from YouTube

“The issue of climate change is tough, because you can't necessarily link a weather episode to it and ask, 'Hey, is that coming out of our tailpipes and smokestacks?'” Environment Canada climate scientist David Phillips said. 

Phillips described the extraordinary 190 millimetre downpour over 60 hours in Calgary as being the straw that broke the camel's back after the area had already seen heavy rain and snow melts earlier in the spring. 

"It's like taking a sopping wet sponge and squeezing out all the moisture and it just rained on a community that had a lots of rain in May. So the rivers were already primed, the ground was already saturated, and it couldn't take any more," he said. 

Phillips said it is also important thing to consider was how much the land use had changed over the years: if the same situation happened 100 years ago in the countryside, the damage would have been less dramatic than it was in a city like Calgary, where the lack of vegetation made it poorly equipped to handle such extreme rainfall.

More extreme weather

Climate specialist Guy Dauncey agreed that "extreme events always happen" and that climate change can't always be a factor, but noted that their frequency was becoming higher.  

“If you look at the statistical likelihood of what's called '100-year-events' ... they're happening more like every 10 years," he said.

Dauncey referenced climate scientist James Hansen, who compared climate change to 'loading the dice' so that instead of an even mix of cold, average and warm summer temperatures, people would be much more likely to end up with warm and hot summers.

"And you can point to the way in which the melting Arctic is causing a larger polar high, which affects the jet stream, and the jet stream doesn't flow regularly anymore," he said. "They get stuck sometimes so it will stay in place. Rain will just stay in one place instead of just moving on."
 Environment Alberta map

A storm that stays...and stays

Still, Phillips said this storm was very unusual for Calgary, where systems tend to move on quickly:

“The storm just kind of stayed put,” Phillips said.

“I often think the best weather in Canada is there because it hits and runs. It doesn't stand arond and torment you, like it does in other areas. But (the storm) stood around like an unwanted houseguest and wouldn't went in opposite – instead of going from west to east it went east to west and it backed up aginst the mountains.

"That kind of rainy weather may become frequent in the years to come as the earth's climate warms up."

Global warming and extreme weather: more to come

Phillips said there was "no way to make any connection" between the oil sands and extreme weather, due to lack of evidence. However, he said that the hotter climates -- partly caused by human activity -- are tied to more extreme rainfall and floods. 

“If the climate was stable and static, we would have as many cold records as warm records. But we know we have twice as many warm records now as cold records,” he said.

And by warming, that doesn't translate to "fuzzy warm summers" and shorter winters, but more abnormal weather events. 

"When the earth warms, that means more rain because the atmosphere can hold more moisture. For every degree of warmth, it can hold 7 per cent more moisture,” he said. 

“This is the stuff that fuels storms, that creates more downpours in short periods of time, more of these bellywashers – we see the evidence everywhere. Not so much if you look at Regina or Winnipeg, but there's enough evidence aruond the world... It's not raining as often, but when it is, you're getting more amounts than you would in the past. There's clear unquestionable evidence of that.”

Around the same time that the floods hit Alberta, Germany and the Czech Republic suffered the worst heavy rain and floods since 2002, killing over a dozen people and causing billions in damage.

Northern India is also undergoing the worst rain and flooding in 60 years, causing 600 deaths and leaving 40,000 people stranded. An op-ed in The Hindu news was far more blunt in its assessment, calling the rainfall "another climate change event."



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Consider This

"Climate Change Expert?" If you look at the historical records, the Elbow River saw higher flow rates back in 1879 and 1932 than it did in 2005 and this summer.

Also, the 2012 - 13 winter was about the most sever winter in 50 years in central Canada. We had -20 C by October 15th, many places saw twice the usual snow fall and spring was delayed by almost four weeks.

Further, global temperatures have not risen in 15 years even though GHG concentrations continue to rise.

People who blame every climatic event on man are as confused as those who attributed 911 to an act of God as a punishment for allowing homosexuals to exist in our society. Wake up and quit hating humans, we are here to stay and yes, we have altered the face of the planet - like many other organisms before us.

Ignore reality at one's peril.

I remember picking up my mom at the bus station in Calgary in June a decade ago and the area was under water then.  It seems to me that Calgarians have made some really poor decisions about where to build and the density of humans therein.  Work with reality Calgarians - what you want and what you need are seldom the same. Stick with needs and alway exercise the precautionary principle.

I think this storm shows more

I think this storm shows more the follie of humankinds dependence on technology than also applying some basic common sense. yes one can build dams, canals and other water diversionary methods. But, eventually if you build on the lowest lands possible there will always be those conditiions that lead to flooding that weren't anticipated. We've maps that show previous flooding for hundreds of years and yet someone is allowed to build four feet above the water line five feet away. Hopefully it's a lesson alberta will start to take more seriously and more natural buffers will be created between water and housing. 

and, for you BC people in Richmond, Tswassen, et al. if you build on sand in an earthquake zone and think you can compact the earth under your fancy low energry efficienct condo's in spite of all the evidence to the contrary then make sure you've taken swimming lessons because you've been sold another lie.





Elbow R flood records

Re: Joseph Fournier (Consider This): The Water Survey of Canada has no records for the Elbow R going back to 1879, search for "Elbow"). At that time Fort Calgary was about 4 years old, tiny, and it is unlikely that hydrologists worked there. Where did you get your data?

Here are the previous records and the estimated 2013 maximum flood flows according to Alberta Environment Note that the estimated maximum flow for 2013 for the Elbow at Bragg Cr (the only Elbow station for which a 2013 max estimate is presently available) is the highest recorded (period of record at least 1932-2013). The 2013 estimated max for the Bow R at Calgary is likewise the highest recorded.