“Canada is increasingly a riskier place to live, work and insure,” said Craig Stewart, Vice-President, Climate Change and Federal Issues, Insurance Bureau of Canada.
The bureau’s stats back up Mr. Stewart’s words. Canada’s top 10 highest insurance loss years all occurred since 2011 with the exception of 1998, the year of Quebec’s infamous ice storm.
What is of particular interest to a resident of Alberta is how many of the disasters mentioned in those top 10 years occurred in this province and in my home city of Calgary. Of the events specifically mentioned the most, seven, occurred in Alberta. Next on the list were Ontario and Quebec with two each.
Of the cities specifically mentioned, Calgary topped the list at three: the rainstorm of 2012 and the hailstorms of 2020 and 2021. The great flood of 2013 was included in “Alberta floods.” Second was Fort McMurray with two: the fire of 2016 and the flood of 2020. No other city in the country was mentioned more than once.
(The flood of 2013 holds great resonance with me as the Elbow River, usually a sparkling blue/green delight, turned into a roiling brown monster and tore out the bottom floor of my apartment building leaving me homeless for the summer.)
Weather events categorized as ”catastrophic” have occurred in Calgary in almost every year since the flood. Extreme heat warnings with record high temperature and air quality advisories because of smoke from wildfires have become commonplace.
According to Jillian Curley, leader of the city’s climate adaptation team, ”We’ve had incredible hailstorms. We’ve had ‘Snowtember’ events, more of these damaging storms. We are seeing heavier snow storms through the winter and we’re seeing more rain at more times of the year than what we would have traditionally seen going back in the climate record.”
There are good reason why the city is disaster prone. It sits at the confluence of two rivers feeding from the Rockies only a few miles west. In June, the heaviest rainfall month coincides with the mountain snow melt and the two combined can produce a deluge.
As for storms, Calgary is located in “hail alley,” the epicentre for hailstorms in Canada. It is regarded as the hailstorm capital of the country.
And then looming over weather here as everywhere is the baleful influence of global warming, making storms fiercer, floods heavier and droughts hotter and longer. And now adding ever more smoke days to suck joy out of our too-short summers.
Calgary city council recognizes the challenge. In November 2021 it declared a climate emergency, a declaration not entirely appreciated by the provincial government.
The city is addressing climate change as a strategic priority and has implemented a Climate Implementation Plan. Climate resilience is one of council’s three foundations of its strategic direction for 2023-2026.
There is a certain irony in Canada’s oil capital suffering the effects of global warming possibly even more than other cities. It is an irony that the city leaders for the most part recognize. Our provincial leaders … not so much.