Experts believe that the recent series of natural calamities affecting British Columbia could point to a “new normal” for the province.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) said that insurance payouts for water damage resulting from extreme weather have been on the rise since the 1980s. Flooding has recently overtaken wildfires as the main driver of damage, IBC also noted.
“We often talk about the future threat that climate change brings, but we should really be talking about the new weather reality that we face today,” IBC Pacific Region vice-president Aaron Sutherland told Vancouver Sun.
Since 2009, national payouts due to natural disasters have increased from a few hundred million dollars a year to around $1 billion a year.
“We are seeing more incidence of flood and more incidence of severe weather as a result of climate change,” Sutherland said. “The new normal is changing all the time.”
Sutherland added that this spring looks to be another costly flood season for Canada.
“When we look at the flood risk we are facing this spring, it’s concerning,” he explained. “We have snowpacks well above normal, more than 200% (above) normal in the Okanagan.”
Together, both flooding and wildfires have caused considerable damage to BC.
Four of the province’s worst fire seasons occurred during the last eight years. Last spring saw the worst flood season in history, followed by a wildfire season remembered for setting the record for the largest area burned (12,000 km2).
“If this is our new normal, that means really nice dry summers and more severe winters, and that’s what we have seen for the past few years,” commented University of BC Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences senior instructor Brett Gilley.
Gilley is hesitant to blame climate change for any short-term changes in weather, but admits that “things are getting worse.”
“If we are basing our flood planning and mitigation on what we think is a one-in-100-year event and that (number) is changing, that is a real worry,” he remarked.