Friday, 3 June 2016

Europe floods

Climate change is being reported as probable cause in the deadly floods in Europe.

Detail of estimated flood level (light blue overlay) for
part of the town of Banff, Alberta. John Hooker, 1998.
I am no stranger to the effects of catastrophic floods: even before the Calgary floods of 2013, my assistant Natasha and myself had drawn innumerable flood evacuation maps, not just for the Bow River which flows through Calgary, but for the North Saskatchewan River which flows through Edmonton to the north of us. These were not projections of natural disaster floods but worst-case scenario dam breach maps. Such a Bow River flood would render Calgary uninhabitable for about three years. Banff would get little warning time, being so close to the dam. Happily, the only danger to that earth dam (the safest kind), would be rapid erosion from an overspill and the sluices to avert that were successfully tested for the first time during the 2013 Bow River flood. The potential danger was not announced to the media (probably to avert panic), but I certainly breathed a sigh of relief after the danger was over, as I had been studying the lake's water levels in the days preceding the sluices being opened. People in the general area who were affected by the escaping water damaging a power relay station and were without electricity for a while had no idea how lucky they were. Despite the maps carefully-designed prettiness (done, also, to avert panic and to lower blood pressure and create calmness), the digital to print files were accurate to a single pixel and each map was proof-read to maintain that quality. The maps were designed for local officials directing evacuation and all extraneous map government map data was removed and contrasts were adjusted to make them quickly understandable for those people. Wasted minutes caused by confusion can result in lives lost.

It might seem strange, considering the recent dryness and the gigantic Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta that global warming estimates had determined that southern Alberta was predicted to become much wetter. Fort McMurray is in the north, though, and we did not even get any smoke from it. it was not until yesterday that any fire was burning further south than Edmonton. Now there are two minor fires at Rocky Mountain House one being held, the other under control. The Fort McMurray Wildfire is now 581,695 ha in size and is still out of control.

Concerns about global warming causing heavy flooding in Europe have been voiced for many years and it is not so much about the frequency of these events but their severity and unseasonable arrival. A freak snowstorm here in Calgary in 2014 destroyed a great number of trees and cost many millions. The wildfire season also started far earlier than usual. I am sure that communities in Europe are already planning for the future to avert the sort of damage that the floods have caused. Of course, this gives little comfort to those who have lost friends and relatives to flash floods or who have had their property destroyed or badly damaged and my sympathy goes to them all.

Have a safe weekend and help those less fortunate than yourself.

John's Coydog Community page

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