Atmospheric rivers from 2021 leave their mark in B.C. two years later

Atmospheric rivers from 2021 leave their mark in B.C. two years later

A series of atmospheric rivers turned a section of the Malahat Highway at Tunnel Hill into a raging river as Vancouver Island was drenched in record rainfall.

The rain washed out 50 metres of the northbound lane, compromising the integrity of the road.

Fast forward to today, an 80-metre retaining wall is now in place to secure the slope against future extreme weather events.

Rob Fleming, B.C.’s transportation minister, said more than 188 flooding events occurred as a result.

“Two years ago, the weekend of November 14 to 15, 2021, our province was rocked by an unprecedented devastation of the atmospheric river. The impact on communities and people was immediate, and it was staggering,” Fleming said at a news conference in Victoria.

In the Cowichan Valley, entire roads disappeared, and Highway 1 near Duncan turned into a river. The water rose so quickly, the regional district declared a local state of emergency mid-day.

Roads in and out of Sooke flooded under almost a half metre of water. It resulted in the submerging of the Sooke River campground.

Sooke resident Daniel Baker recorded the flooding near his home.

“I can’t remember the last time there was this much rain,” said Baker.

The atmospheric rivers resulted in rains that washed out 30 sites on the Coquihalla Highway, including six bridges.

On Wednesday, Fleming announced that all the work is complete and ready for the next catastrophic weather event.

“Our infrastructure has to be able to withstand extreme weather conditions. This is the new normal,” Fleming said.

“For the safety of our residents and the movement of goods throughout the province, this is an important infrastructure priority for B.C.”

The record rain proved tragic, with five lives lost in a mudslide on Highway 99 between Pemberton and Lillooet.

In Merritt, Diana Boston watched her neighbourhood disappear under the water.

“I can see my shed and my white fence. I can see the top of my house,” said Boston.

The entire town flooded, forcing more than 7,000 there to flee.

Armel Castellan, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the storms came on the heels of a very active wildfire season in the province.

“Will that repeat itself? It’s hard to know. But what we can say is the projections, the climate downscaling of high impact weather is only going in one direction right now,” Castellan said.

And that direction means more events like the one from 2021 could be in our future, with storms of longer duration expected to hit more frequently.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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