Climate change: Fiona demonstrated a wild hurricane future and needs to adapt


Standing near the remains of collapsed homes in Port aux Basques, NL, Denise Anderson said the thought of continuing to live by the ocean is difficult after a deadly storm heralded looming weather violence.

“I grew up in this area, I wanted to come back to this area, but now I’m not so sure I want to,” she said two days after post-tropical storm Fiona damaged the house where she has lived for three years. her, she destroyed the houses of her neighbors and dragged a local woman into the sea.

Across the East Coast, similar emotions about how climate change is upending lives can be heard, as residents rebuild their homes and cope with weeks without power, and political leaders are asked how they will prepare coastlines. and the electrical networks to face the next gale.

Some 125 miles south across Cabot Strait, in Reserve Mines, NS, Reggie Boutilier pointed to a missing part of his roof and wondered when the next storm would come. “It’s just early in the hurricane season, and I think we’re off to a bad start,” he said the day after Fiona hit.

Scientific predictions about what is to come are not reassuring.

Canada’s Changing Climate, a federal summary of climate science published in 2019, said fossil fuel emissions are likely to increase the intensity of tropical storms that form in the South Atlantic and head north toward the Canadian coast.

Blair Greenan, a federal scientist at the Bedford Institution of Oceanography who worked on the report, said in an interview that the water temperature off the Maritimes has risen 1.5°C over the last century, adding a potent source of increased energy. for storms.

Anya Waite, a professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University, said the “sobering” reality is that warmer water sheds heat and moisture to storms like Fiona, giving them a longer duration and often a wider path.

While utility spokespeople referred to Fiona as “historic” in their press releases, Waite, also the chief science officer for the Ocean Frontier Institute, says storms of this magnitude will become more common. “We will have storms that will last much longer because the surface water is much warmer,” he said.

A “perfect trifecta” of conditions — overall sea level rise over the past century created by melting glaciers, storm surges, and lower barometric pressures during storms — is also increasing the likelihood that coastlines will flood during hurricanes, he added.

“In terms of adaptation … one of the main things is that we will have to move away from the coast,” he said. “We love the shoreline so much that people cling to their last rock as it sinks. We can’t do that.”

Peter Bevan-Baker, the leader of the Prince Edward Island Green Party, saw an altered landscape as he drove around the island last Friday, with thousands of trees down, barns destroyed and the beaches that define the island suddenly washed away. “The Island has changed forever,” he said in an interview.

Meanwhile, thousands of people remained without power nearly two weeks after the storm hit, with complaints mounting about a lack of basic services like heat, electricity, gasoline and even food for the elderly in buildings run by the province.

However, during briefings last week, privately owned utilities Nova Scotia Power and Maritime Electric, which serve PEI, dismissed the suggestion that power lines should be buried, saying underground lines would cost up to 10 times more without eliminating the risk of cuts.

Bevan-Baker said these kinds of “standard” responses don’t recognize changing climate realities. “I understand that burying lines is a hugely expensive proposition, but so is rebuilding if there’s a storm like this every few years,” she said.

Blair Feltmate, director of the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, said that while more study on how utilities should adapt may be helpful, it was time to act with the 170-kilometer-per-hour gusts that hit the region.

Endless scenario planning can become “a substitute for action,” he said in an interview.

He said that where homes or infrastructure have been destroyed near the coast, rebuilding needs to happen further inland. More importantly, potential coastal damage needs to be modeled across the Atlantic region to establish building rules that take climate adaptation into account.

Solutions will vary. In some cases, the highest seawalls will protect the cities; in others, development may have to recede, while mudflats and mudflats are created to absorb some of the fury of the sea, Feltmate said.

Bevan-Baker notes that in PEI there are about 30,000 undeveloped lots near the coast, yet there is still no province-wide land use plan that takes future storm surge into account.

Joanna Eyquem, a geoscientist who also works with the University of Waterloo’s center for climate adaptation, said key infrastructure providers, whether they be utilities, rail or ports, “really need to rise to the challenge of adaptation.” and consider climate change in all its aspects. they are doing, something that is not yet universal in Canada.

By contrast, in the UK, most similar organizations and businesses report climate adaptation progress every five years, in addition to making mandatory climate-related financial disclosures annually, he said.

Feltmate said that ordinary citizens must also act. Her studies show that many homeowners in flood-prone areas still don’t have generators to run sump pumps if the power goes out and haven’t graded their land to slant rain away from buildings.

While some retrofitting is expensive, Feltmate points to research indicating that for every dollar spent, whether it’s cutting down trees around power lines or creating more decentralized power grids, five to six dollars are saved on avoided damage.

After previous severe storms, such as Juan in 2003 and Dorian in 2019, similar messages were sent out and governments in the region appeared to be briefly vigilant to changing realities. But during the election campaigns that followed, climate adaptation policies were only outlined in broad terms and the focus shifted back to health systems in crisis.

Will it be any different this time, after the roofs are replaced, the ports are rebuilt, and the freezers are restocked? There are signs that even if officials are slow to change course, the urgency is sinking to ground level.

In Burnt Islands, NL, fisherman Murray Hardy gestured around his basement after shoveling mud deposited by Fiona’s storm surge, saying he’ll prepare for the next hurricane by emptying space and replacing plaster before the storm forms. mold.

“What am I going to do? You have your house,” he said, when asked if moving was an option. “I look forward to more of this. All they talk about is global warming and the tides and stuff. I’ll clean all this up.”

This story is part of CP’s Climate Change: The Age of Adaptation series, which examines Canadian efforts to build resilience against the worst effects of extreme weather.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 6, 2022.

With Holly McKenzie-Sutter archives in Port aux Basques and Burnt Islands, NL

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