Right now, there’s no reason to think that a catastrophic Fraser River flood will hit the Lower Mainland.
Back in 1948, one of the most devastating floods in B.C.’s history struck when warm spring weather rapidly melted snow on the Interior mountains. The Fraser rose, the dikes were breached, and the equivalent of more than $215 million damage was done, in modern values.
Now, of course, there’s even more buildings, roads, and critical infrastructure in the path of a potential flood.
There have been some improvements in our flood protection infrastructure over the last decade. A number of high-water scares have led to governments investing in dike upgrades.
But last November’s catastrophic floods, caused by atmospheric rivers, show that in an era of climate change, we can’t rely on past estimates of damage to guess what the future will hold.
This year, we’ve had cool temperatures and plenty of rain. Despite that, snow packs in the key areas that feed the Fraser River are only a little above normal.
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Barring a sudden Pineapple Express weather system or a sharp heat wave, the snow that’s on the mountains from here to the headwaters of the Fraser should melt at a manageable rate of speed.
But we know that, if it isn’t this year, it’ll be next year, or the year after that, or 10 years from now. The question is not, “Will there be a flood?” The answer to that question is always “Yes, someday.” The real question we have to ask, this spring and every spring to come is “What can we do to be better prepared?”
Climate change means higher temperatures, but also more unpredictable weather patterns. If our world continues to be unpredictable, we have to be ready for wild swings, and for another re-run of flood years like 1948.