Warming planet increases the likelihood of flooding in the future, says federal government
As water levels rose along the St. John River this spring, many New Brunswickers had two reactions.
First, they prepared urgently for the flood.
Then they asked themselves whether this was evidence of climate change — whether two major floods in two years proves that human activity has altered the forces of nature.
“Things have certainly changed,” Elaine Price of Mill Cove said as she watched the water rise toward her home last month.
In Chipman, Rhonda Saulnier was asking the same question.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said.
“So now that it’s happened two years in a row, like everybody I’m afraid it’s the new norm. I’m praying it’s not.”
Water levels peaked in Fredericton on April 23 at 8.36 metres, compared with a peak of 8.31 metres last year. In Saint John, the peak was 5.53 metres compared with 5.76 metres last year.
For the second straight year, homes were evacuated. For the second straight year, the Trans-Canada Highway was closed downriver from Fredericton.
Even officials who oversee flood response seemed taken aback.
“When this event happened last year, we were under the impression this was a historical event, and two years in a row, the historical event happened,” said Ahmed Dassouki, the director of operations at the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“It’s a new day, and two years in a row is telling us we can’t just do the same thing,” Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters.
Yes, this is climate change — probably
Is this climate change?
The answer isn’t straightforward, but the consensus is: yes, probably, likely.
“You can’t attribute one event to climate change,” said Barrie Bonsal, a senior research scientist with Environment Canada, who co-authored a major report on climate change released last month.
“But as we warm the atmosphere, and we see associated impacts, we are increasing the probability of certain types of events that are associated with warming.”