Vancouver’s Snowfall Chaos Should Be a Wake Up Call About Climate Change

With more unpredictable weather in our future, we need to be better prepared than we are

(Kristen Frier, Flickr/Daniel Burton, modified by Kristen Frier)

It feels like it happens every year in Vancouver. The first snowfall that piles up more than a few inches sends the entire city into a spiral of near-apocalyptic chaos. Road accidents skyrocket, services like electricity begin to fail, and worst of all, transit all over the region shudders to a halt.

When the weather outside turns frightful, the commute becomes not-so-delightful.

If you’re one of the thousands of KPU students who commute using transit, you know this routine all too well. Those who were unlucky enough to brave the overcrowded and beleaguered SkyTrain service this past Monday or Tuesday were able to witness firsthand the impact that a small variance in weather can have on the infrastructure of a city and the lives of its inhabitants.

One of the reasons why the SkyTrain service was constantly delayed is that falling snow kept triggering the track intrusion alarms along the rails and at the stations, according to a Daily Hive article.

It became such a problem that Translink had to turn off some of the alarms and assign employees to manually drive the trains along their routes. This means that an element of the transit system that tens of thousands of people rely on everyday is fundamentally designed in a way that stops it from working properly during heavy snowfall. Even though this happens almost every year, we are still unable to stop the snowfall from creating major disruptions in people’s day-to-day lives.

This, along with all of the other problems that the weather caused, points to one scary fact: the city is vitally underprepared to function during a prolonged or unpredictable weather event.

As our climate changes and these kinds of episodes become more frequent and intense, we are going to have to make changes to the way we live. As the adage goes, whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.

The effects of unpredictable weather changes are slowly becoming harder to ignore. Our winters will more frequently feature things like the windstorm in 2006 that wiped out a bunch of Stanley Park, the recent storm that scuttled the pier at White Rock, or the flood at Columbia station in December from heavy rains.

Our summers will have lengthier forest fire seasons and droughts which will have more immediate impacts on us. Even this year, Vancouver doctors reported a surge in asthma-related hospital visits in the summer during the longest recorded air quality advisory on record due to the smoke.

These kinds of events are going to happen more often, and judging from our current capacity to adapt to extraordinary weather, it seems like we are not going to be able to successfully deal with them unless we focus on developing a more robust system of disaster preparation and prevention. Perhaps this is something Vancouver City Council was considering when it voted to declare a climate emergency on Jan. 17, which allows it to re-work emissions reduction targets and strategies in the shorter term.

It’s nice to be thinking about reducing emissions, but it looks like it’s coming to a point where we should be thinking about how to more effectively adapt to the changes that we will unquestionably have to face. It doesn’t seem like we’re sufficiently prepared for what we have to deal with now, let alone anything worse down the line, and there’s snow time like the present to worry about the future.