In what it is a testament to the effects of Climate Change, Alberta experienced severe flooding which has so far displaced an estimated 100,000 people and led to untold millions in property damage. The flooding began Thursday morning, but the causes are due to rain and thunder storms which have been going on all over the southern province for days.
Road closures began shortly thereafter and people living in low-lying areas were forced to leave their homes. As the rivers rose, homes, vehicles and all low-lying structures were washed away. In the city of Calgary, where the downtown core sits on the banks of the Bow River, roughly 75,000 people (which may include my cousin and her husband) needed to be evacuated and the downtown area closed entirely.
While this accounts for the majority of people displaced, this city and its residents were hardly alone. Other major cities – such as Medicine Hat and Lethbridge (where an uncle and aunt of mine live) – were forced to declare a state of emergency and close down their roadways as Cougar Creek, High River, and other major waterways became elevated and threatened riverfront properties, businesses and roadways. Countless people were also forced to abandon their vehicles as the waters threatened to overtake them too.
Updated reports have also indicated that the flooding has reached as far west as the east Kootenay region of British Columbia, washing out sections of the Trans-Canada Highway and forcing the cities of Banff and Canmore to also declare a state of emergency. No deaths were reported on Thursday, but three bodies were found floating in High River today. In all likelihood, these individuals were the victims of roadway floods, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
It seems that no one in region has been unaffected, and already meteorologists and climate experts have confirmed Climate Change as the cause. Rising temperatures means unpredictable weather patterns, due in part to more water evaporating and saturating the air with moisture. And in the southern Alberta region, the area is known for its “Chinook Winds” – air currents that come down from the Rocky Mountains, bringing warm, moist air down into the Prairies.
However, these winds brought significantly more moisture than expected this year, as temperatures in the mountain ranges were warmer and led to more glacial ice melting. This in turn brought air currents that were more saturated down into Alberta and caused significant, extended downpours. People living across the province also reported hail stones the size of toonies (a two dollar coin about an inch in diameter).
First responders, the RCMP and the Canadian military have been sent in to assist with evacuation and rescues, as well as sand-bagging and other disaster relief efforts. All told, some 12,000 soldiers are also assisting with the efforts, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper also flew in to help oversea and coordinate with the local authorities.
But worst yet is the fact that more flooding is expected to come. Earlier today, evacuees and rescue workers were given a temporary respite from the rains, but they are no means done. As the warm weather “Chinook” system continues to move in, Albertans and those living downriver in British Columbia can expect the riverbanks to continue to erode and cause more damage.
Adding to the problem is the extensive amount of collateral damage, caused by overflown sewage pipes, gas leaks, and other toxic materials leaching into the soil and water. No telling just how cleanup and repair will be needed once this is over, but at the moment, the only concerns are making sure everyone is accounted for and out of harm’s way, and that people are prepared for the next wave.
My wife and I send our thoughts and prayers to all the people in Alberta and BC who are affected by this crisis, and not just the friends and family we have there. And I sincerely hope that this crisis – in conjunction with countless others happening around the world – will raise people’s awareness to the changes happening in our world. It’s not too late to stop them, and we can’t afford not to!