Flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada
Flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada (BC Ministry of Transportation, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

British Columbi­a’s Greater Van­cou­ver and Low­er Main­land pop­u­la­tion cen­ters are cur­rent­ly cut off by land from the rest of Cana­da after an “atmos­pher­ic riv­er” caused severe flood­ing of rivers in the Cas­cade and Coast moun­tain ranges.

The “province on the Pacif­ic” was just begin­ning to recov­er from a sum­mer of record heat, and wild­fires which rav­aged the Fras­er Canyon town of Lyt­ton and threat­ened the ranch­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Mer­ritt with evacuation.

Mer­ritt, a ranch­ing town of 7,000, is a place where I and Rock­ies-bound hik­ing bud­dies reg­u­lar­ly stop for lunch while trav­el­ing the Coqui­hal­la High­way, the main route for recre­ation­al and com­mer­cial trav­el into inte­ri­or British Columbia.

All the town’s res­i­dents were being evac­u­at­ed Tues­day to Kelow­na and Kam­loops. The Coqui­hal­la is closed due to a mas­sive washout.

Asked about high­way clo­sures, British Colum­bia Pub­lic Works Min­is­ter (and act­ing Pre­mier) Mike Farn­worth told reporters: “In some cas­es, it can be hours, or a day to remove debris. But in some cas­es, like the Coqui­hal­la, it could be sev­er­al weeks or months.”

What hap­pened? The “atmos­pher­ic riv­er” off the Pacif­ic scored a direct hit on What­com Coun­ty and the low­er Fras­er Riv­er val­ley. Flood­wa­ters cov­ered the Tran­sCana­da High­way north of the bor­der towns of Sumas. Much of Abbots­ford has been evac­u­at­ed due to fail­ure of a pump­ing station.

Flooding in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada
Flood­ing in Abbots­ford, British Colum­bia, Cana­da (BC Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Fur­ther east, the town of Hope is found at the junc­tion of five major high­ways, three lead­ing into the inte­ri­or. It also sits beneath 6,900-foot Mt. Cheam and oth­er peaks of the Lucky Four group.

Hope received 8.55 inch­es of rain from the atmos­pher­ic riv­er. The town has been cut off with high­ways flood­ed in all direc­tions. An esti­mat­ed 250 strand­ed motorists were holed up at Grace Bap­tist Church.

West on High­way 7, which runs north of the Fras­er Riv­er, more than three hun­dred peo­ple (and twen­ty-six dogs) had to be air­lift­ed out of the flood’s way. Both High­way 7 and the Tran­sCana­da High­way, head­ed down­stream, were closed by flood­ing. Upstream, land­slides closed the north and east­bound Tran­sCana­da High­way in the Fras­er Canyon, and High­way 3, the south­ern Trans Provin­cial High­way which pass­es through the Cascades.

About 110 miles east of Van­cou­ver, on the Trans Provin­cial High­way, the town of Prince­ton (pop­u­la­tion 3000) found itself half flood­ed from waters of the Sim­ilka­meen Riv­er, with no potable water, and with a rup­tured gas line. Mild week­end weath­er gave way to sub-freez­ing temperatures.

On Van­cou­ver Island, the dra­mat­ic Mala­hat High­way north of Vic­to­ria was closed for twelve hours a day, and open to one-way car car­a­vans, as debris were cleared.

The era of cli­mate dam­age has hit hard at a province once nick­named Canada’s “lotus land.” Mod­er­at­ing win­ter tem­per­a­tures in remote reach­es of the Chilcotin Plateau increased the pine bark bee­tle pop­u­la­tion, killing hun­dreds of miles of forests stretch­ing north and east. A Van­cou­ver-to-Ter­race flight yields views of orange (dying) and gray (dead) Lodge­pole pine forests.

The dead forests have fed wild­fires, from the vil­lage of Tele­graph Creek, on the Stikine Riv­er just above the Alas­ka bor­der, to Koote­nay Nation­al Park near the Alber­ta bor­der in the Cana­di­an Rockies.

Mount Assiniboine in B.C.
Mount Assini­boine in British Colum­bia (Pho­to: KJL, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

In the sum­mer of 2018, our par­ty bound for Mount Assini­boine trav­eled six hun­dred and twen­ty-eight miles, through smoke from four major fires, to Can­more, Alber­ta. British Colum­bia Pre­mier John Hor­gan has spo­ken of the fires as a “new normal.”

The “heat dome” last June yield­ed Canada’s all-time tem­per­a­ture record of 49.6 degrees Cel­sius or 121.3 degrees Fahren­heit in Lytton.

Days lat­er a “wall of fire” burned nine­ty per­cent of the community.

All told, dur­ing the heat wave, British Colum­bia expe­ri­enced 486 deaths com­pared to 165 in a peri­od of nor­mal temperatures.

The main pop­u­la­tion cen­ters of British Colum­bia are flanked to the north by the Coast Range, to the east by the Cas­cades. The peaks squeeze atmos­pher­ic rivers, espe­cial­ly in places like Hope and the area around Squamish north of Vancouver.

Vis­i­tors see spec­tac­u­lar water­falls in sum­mer but can con­front rag­ing rivers dur­ing fall storms and sud­den spring runoff.

A test of British Columbia’s “Alert Ready” cell phone emer­gency warn­ing sys­tem was sched­uled for Fri­day, but was can­celed due to the ongo­ing, real emergency.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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