From this year’s flooding, to heat domes and wildfires, to the recent cold snap, residents and experts in British Columbia have been left to wonder how equipped the province’s infrastructure is at handling these extreme weather events.
In June, a heat dome contributed to hundreds of deaths. Since then, wildfires have ravaged homes and forests, and floods have forced mass evacuations
For nearly two weeks, most of the province has been in the grip of an extreme cold snap, leading to frozen pipes and broken heating systems.
Rodney Hobson kicked off the New Year by getting a call that the karate dojo he owns in Kelowna was flooding.
“I opened up the front door. We had about four inches of water across our entire facility and it started pouring out all over the road, all over the parking lot.”
The water pipes in the back of the building had frozen — cracking and rupturing the pipes and sending water gushing through the dojo.
Hobson is facing at least four months of work before the damage is repaired.
“It’s pretty overwhelming at the moment.”
Hobson’s dojo is just one of hundreds of homes and businesses affected by flooding during the cold spell that saw record-breaking low temperatures across the province.
Jay Rhodes says his restoration company has dealt with more than 50 calls in Kelowna alone since Christmas Eve.
“The calls have just kept coming,” he said. “It started right before Christmas. And even if I go back to the floods in Princeton and Merritt — our team has just been going extremely hard.”
He says poorly insulated pipes are the main culprit: everything from garden hose taps to fire suppression systems in attics.
“The pipes that are most at risk are going to be on the exterior walls,” he said.
Older buildings not equipped for extreme cold or heat
In the Vancouver area, many people living in older buildings are finding their heating systems are inadequate.
The heating in Alexandria Brown’s apartment stopped working for four days.
“This is crazy for Vancouver,” she said.
After suffering extreme heat without air conditioning just five months ago in the same building, the cold forced Brown to move out and stay with her brother.
Climate change experts say extreme weather events like heat waves, floods, fires and cold snaps will become more frequent unless action is taken to slow the pace of change.
Dylan Clark with the Canadian Institute of Climate Choices says in the long term that means reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
However, he says now is the time for governments and property owners to plan for extreme weather year-round. Part of that is building better infrastructure.
“We need to change the way we are building homes in ways that they are going to be resilient to the floods and wildfires and heat waves of tomorrow.”
The other part is knowing where the risk areas will be. Clark says flood map data is lacking across B.C. and Canada.
“We need a better understanding of where flood risk is so that you and I know if our home is going to be at risk of flooding now or in a decade to come.”