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More waves of rain will hit the province this week as British Columbians are still rebuilding from the ‘atmospheric river’ that inundated rivers and destroyed highways. Check back here for the latest emergency updates

Abbotsford, B.C. A person walks a dog in a residential neighbourhood on a mountain overlooking flooded farmland.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C. floods: Latest news

  • Flood warnings remained in place Thursday across southern B.C., but Environment and Climate Change Canada has lifted its weather alerts as the heavy rain abates. The latest “atmospheric river” also brought record-breaking November heat on Wednesday that’s melted snow and contributed to localized flooding, meteorologists said.
  • B.C. has 1,100 kilometres of dikes protecting 160,000 hectares, and reports predicting their failure go back decades: This past March, the Fraser Basin Council found “most of the dikes in the province do not fully meet provincial standards” and even a weak storm was likely to breach them. The Globe and Mail investigated the historical factors that left the dikes so vulnerable.
More from The Decibel

Listen below as environment reporter Kathryn Blaze Baum explains the B.C. rainstorms on The Decibel. She also wrote an explainer with Matthew McClearn about how the “atmospheric river” effect brought so much water to B.C.


Latest B.C. emergency updates

Check EmergencyInfoBC for the latest evacuation orders, DriveBC for road closings and BC Hydro for power outages; those organizations’ Twitter feeds are updating live in the list below. You can also check Environment and Climate Change Canada’s weather alerts for your region and Prepared BC’s information page to learn how to get your home ready for an emergency.


B.C. floods at a glance

From Nov. 13 to 15, heavy rainstorms lashed B.C., flooding rivers and creating mudslides that killed at least four people. The storms came after two months of higher-than-usual rainfall and brought some regions more water than they usually see in all of November. Nov. 14’s rainfall alone was enough to break 20 area rainfall records from Victoria to Yoho National Park on the Alberta border, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s preliminary numbers. And afterward, the rain kept coming: More is forecast to arrive in B.C. on Nov. 29 and 30.


Flooding in Abbotsford, B.C.

Abbotsford quickly began evacuating neighbourhoods during the floods, especially once it feared a pumping station would fail and put the Sumas Prairie region at risk. Sumas Prairie used to be Sumas Lake before it was drained for agriculture; pumping stations are what keep the Sumas River, a tributary of the Fraser, from filling it again. Farmers had to rescue their cows from floodwaters; others dumped their milk because, with roads and highways washed out, there’s nowhere to take it; and farms that produce most of B.C.’s chicken and eggs lost many birds and struggled to keep the remaining ones fed and watered.

Watch: Abbotsford locals band together to save stranded cattle from flooded farms.


Flooding near Lillooet, B.C.

All the flood-related casualties so far are connected to a mudslide near Lillooet on Highway 99, also known as Duffey Lake Road, where four people are confirmed dead so far and a fifth person reported missing is unaccounted for. Family friends identified two as a couple, Anita and Mirsad Hadzic, who were returning home from a weekend resort getaway in Vernon; another, Steven Taylor, was a Calgarian rugby player who recently moved to Vancouver. He leaves behind a wife and several children.

Anita and Mirsad Hadzic, shown with their daughter at left, were killed in Nov. 14's Highway 99 mudslide near Lillooet, B.C., along with Steven Taylor, right.Handout


Flooding in Merritt, B.C.

In Merritt, a community in the Southern Interior, the population of 7,000 was ordered to evacuate on Nov. 15 after the swollen Coldwater River inundated two bridges into the town, blocked access to the third and overwhelmed the water-treatment plant, making the water too contaminated to drink even when boiled. Some evacuees were allowed to return on Nov. 23, but to a town that will be permanently changed by the floods: The Coldwater redirected itself down part of Pine Street and the city told local media it will have to leave it that way.

Watch: Raw footage shows the flooding in Merritt and nearby Princeton.

The Globe and Mail


Flooding in Agassiz, B.C.

Search-and-rescue helicopters flew in on Sunday night to rescue motorists on Highway 7 between Agassiz and Hope, where mudslides blocked the road at both ends and appeared to push some vehicles over an embankment. Military crews came back later to search the debris.

Search-and-rescue personnel help flood evacuees disembark from a helicopter in Agassiz on Nov. 15.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

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Marooned: B.C.’s damaged roads and broken supply chains

Shopper at the SuperStore in Kamloops look over empty produce shelves on Nov. 16.Dennis Owen/The Globe and Mail

Mudslides and flooding severed all major highways between the Lower Mainland and the Interior, as well as the freight routes used by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways to connect Vancouver, the nation’s largest seaport, with the rest of Canada. Emergency lanes were open within days but full repairs may not finish until next year – meaning supplies of food, fuel and consumer goods, which were already unstable before because of global supply-chain problems, could be shaky for a long time.

As shelves were picked clean in the first few days after the floods, grocery stores shifted their plans, sending trucks westward from Alberta instead of eastward from Vancouver, the normal route. Declaring a state of emergency, Premier John Horgan introduced fuel rationing in parts of the province, limiting each person to 30 litres of gasoline per purchase at the gas station, but also allowing British Columbians to cross to the United States for supplies without needing a COVID-19 test on their return. The state of emergency has been extended to at least Dec. 14.

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What’s an ‘atmospheric river’?

Atmospheric rivers, also called tropical plumes, are long and narrow weather formations that can carry moisture high in the atmosphere over distances of 2,000 kilometres or more. Atmospheric rivers that hit the West Coast are sometimes nicknamed the “Pineapple Express” because they start in tropical, pineapple-producing Pacific island regions such as Hawaii.

Watch: Climate scientist Simon Donner explains how atmospheric rivers work.

Atmospheric rivers can sometimes bring more water than actual rivers, and normally that’s good for forests and wildlife; without them, some parts of western North America would have half or less of their usual precipitation. But the rivers also have a tendency to stall over small areas and dump all their water there, creating catastrophic floods. This was one such event, and it likely won’t be the last: Atmospheric rivers around the world will get more intense as the planet warms due to greenhouse-gas emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in August.

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Extreme floods and climate change

Three months before Merritt's inundation, the July Mountain wildfire burns along the Coquihalla Highway south of the town.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

This past summer’s record-breaking heat, and the wildfires it caused, gave B.C. a horrifying taste of one kind of disaster that climate change is going to make deadlier and more common in coming years. But for most Canadian cities, extreme flooding is the more costly and faster-growing threat, according to a 2019 report from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. Human-caused climate change makes flooding a greater hazard across the country because a warmer atmosphere can absorb more moisture and then dump it in one place all at once; it also disrupts long-standing weather patterns so that once-in-a-century catastrophes will happen more frequently.

In B.C.’s case, the wildfires and floods were interconnected in ways that made November’s destruction worse. Trees that helped hold mountain soil together were reduced to ash and debris, and the soil underneath became a fire-baked, water-resistant surface that could not absorb the rain.

HOW WILDFIRE BURN SCARS CONTRIBUTE TO FLASH FLOODING, MUDSLIDES AND LANDSLIDES

When organic material burns at high intensity, water-repellent compounds are vapourized and condense on cooler soil layers below. Heavy rains run off the layer of water-repellent soil much as it would pavement, which can cause flash flooding. If the top layer becomes saturated, it can slide downhill, causing mudslides and landslides.

Before fire

Organic material

Subsurface soil

During fire

Subsurface soil

After fire

Ash and burnt top soil

Water-repellent soil

Subsurface soil

During heavy rain

Water-repellent soil

Subsurface soil

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

HOW WILDFIRE BURN SCARS CONTRIBUTE TO FLASH FLOODING, MUDSLIDES AND LANDSLIDES

When organic material burns at high intensity, water-repellent compounds are vapourized and condense on cooler soil layers below. Heavy rains run off the layer of water-repellent soil much as it would pavement, which can cause flash flooding. If the top layer becomes saturated, it can slide downhill, causing mudslides and landslides.

Before fire

Organic material

Subsurface soil

During fire

Water-repellent compounds

Subsurface soil

After fire

Ash and burnt top soil

Water-repellent soil

Subsurface soil

During heavy rain

Water-repellent soil

Subsurface soil

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

HOW WILDFIRE BURN SCARS CONTRIBUTE TO FLASH FLOODING,

MUDSLIDES AND LANDSLIDES

When organic material burns at high intensity, water-repellent compounds are vapourized and condense on cooler soil layers below. Heavy rains run off the layer of water-repellent soil much as it would pavement, which can cause flash flooding. If the top layer becomes saturated, it can slide downhill, causing mudslides and landslides.

Before fire

During fire

Organic material

Water-repellent compounds

Subsurface soil

Subsurface soil

After fire

During heavy rain

Ash and burnt top soil

Water-repellent soil

Water-repellent soil

Subsurface soil

Subsurface soil

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

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More reading

Opinion

Gary Mason: Canada’s climate reckoning is upon us. The costs of ignoring the warnings will be enormous

Coleman Molnar: Paradise lost? Why I’m questioning life as a B.C. resident

Glenn McGillivray: These B.C. storms are not the new normal. We can’t even see that from here

Editorial: The world’s climate future hits British Columbia

On the climate crisis’s Canadian hazards

What an Oakville dispute tells us about flood risks for thousands of Canadian landowners

Climate change will force small towns to make tough decisions – but small budgets mean minimal options

Canada’s disappearing coastline: How climate change puts our beaches in jeopardy

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Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Justine Hunter, Andrea Woo, Xiao Xu, Mike Hager, Nancy Macdonald, Matthew McClearn and The Canadian Press


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