Vol. 21 No. 8 • February 26 - March 4, 2015 In Our 20th Year Serving Greater Hamilton

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Responding To Weather Extremes

by Don McLean
May 22 - 28, 2014
Residents were warned last week that extreme weather is going to get much worse and cities face expensive adaptation costs like the rock slides that recently hit three mountain accesses. The global climate news includes a worsening California drought and studies that conclude the West Antarctic ice sheet is doomed.

    Brian Kelly, Durham region’s manager of sustainability, told a May 12 climate change forum that we’ve “already ordered” and “there’s no escaping delivery” of weather extremes that will challenge municipal residents and infrastructure with heat waves, droughts and more intense rainstorms. By the 2040s his region anticipates 25 days a year of plus 30C heat, and the doubling of rain dumps greater than 25 mm (1 inch) per day, as average temperatures climb four celsius degrees.

    Kelly is heading up a Durham Region task force to map out how “to prepare, protect and safeguard us and our infrastructure” from these extremes. He spoke to a forum of about 200 people organized by 15 local groups including the local chapter of the Council of Canadians, Idle No More, Green Venture, Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton 350 Committee that was also addressed by climate scientist Dr Gordon McBean and local aboriginal voices.

    Durham commissioned a study to determine as closely as possible the likely climatic shifts facing Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Uxbridge and other municipalities in the region just east of Toronto between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. A mitigation plan to reduce emissions has been completed, and Kelly’s group is now finalizing an adaptation strategy.

    “Climate mitigation is protecting the atmosphere from us,” explained Kelly, “climate adaptation is protecting us from the atmosphere.”

    Between last decade and the 2040s, the projections show a 50 per cent increase in the maximum rainfall in a single day, and more than 50 per cent rise in the risk of tornadoes. They also predict an overall 16 per cent climb in precipitation especially in July and August, and a shift from snow to rain in January and February.

    While Kelly and the other forum speakers urged rapid reduction in emissions causing global warming, they also made clear that more extreme weather outcomes can’t be avoided and make municipal preparations absolutely necessary. The inevitability of change was underlined by studies released last week concluding the West Antarctic ice sheet can’t be prevented from melting – a scenario that will raise sea levels between 4–12 feet.

    “Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,” one author told a NASA news conference. “It has passed the point of no return.”

    The wildfires in California present another face of global climate change, and last week US officials reported that the entire state is now in severe drought, with most in extreme drought and the central quarter classified as exceptional drought. Much of Texas, Arizona, Oregon, Nevada and New Mexico are in similar conditions, with the drought extending north through Kansas and Oklahoma.

    Durham obtained their regional specific projections by piggy–backing on a study done earlier for Toronto by the same consulting company. That hasn’t yet been done for Hamilton, but city climate change coordinator Brian Montgomery told last week’s forum that he hopes such a study will win council approval.

    Not counting last week’s heavy rains, the city has endured at least twenty major storms in the last decade that have flooded homes, and has paid out over $5 million in compassionate grants to affected residents, as well as over $12 million to install backflow valves. However, councillors recently rejected a staff request for an extra $1 million a year to maintain stormwater facilities. V
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