Residents of Nova Scotia are mopping up the remnants of Hurricane Lee, which made landfall in the Atlantic Canada province on Saturday, and expressing relief that the storm proved far less destructive than Hurricane Fiona, which wreaked havoc in the region one year ago.
At the same time, there is a growing appreciation in the province that tropical hurricanes, once unusual so far north, can be expected with greater frequency and intensity in coming years as a result of global climate change.
“Nova Scotia was lightly kissed by the hurricane force winds, so while it was mild compared to what could have been, there is still a fair bit of damage,” said Waye Mason, a city councilor in Halifax, the provincial capital and the largest city in Atlantic Canada.
“Coast roads were flooded and rock covered, some beaches were washed away, some roof damage, and at one point almost 200,000 customers had no power. … It could have been much worse, but it was still a major storm.”
Asked how he dealt personally with the storm, Mason said, “We didn’t have power for 30 hours, so I spent much of my time nursing our old generator along to keep the food in the fridge, and helping friends and neighbors.”
Power had been restored to all but 8,000 customers by Tuesday, a far cry from the three-week wait for electricity in some rural regions after Fiona, which has been described as the costliest and most intense hurricane ever to hit Canada.
Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said that while Nova Scotia was lucky this time, weather disasters will become only more common with climate change.
“In many places in the U.S. people are having a great deal of difficulty getting insurance for their homes, their businesses,” Heyman said in a telephone interview.
“The risks are that we don’t take it seriously and that we don’t prepare ourselves for future climate events. Those of us in the older generation have not taken this as seriously as the new generation on the planet.
“All throughout time we had fires and floods. It’s just that the quantity of fires and floods has increased and the severity has increased over time,” Heyman said.
Nova Scotia has been battered by other natural disasters in the year between Hurricanes Fiona and Lee. Massive forest fires ignited across the province in May and June, forcing more than 16,000 people to evacuate from Halifax, where pillars of smoke were visible from downtown. A total of 200 buildings were destroyed, including over 150 homes.
In July, the province suffered historic rainfall, with up to 300 mm of rain falling in 12 hours, leading to deadly floods.
Mubin Shaikh, a manager of response operations for the Canadian Red Cross based in the central province of Ontario, pointed to the far-reaching effects of weather disasters.
“Canada has recently seen several disaster events, the effects of which have reached the U.S. as weather is not bound by political borders or partisan leanings,” Shaikh said. Smoke from the earlier wildfires blanketed the northeast United States coast, prompting concerns about air quality.
“There is a growing attention now in both countries, that the threat of forest fires, floods, snow and ice storms, and other similar events have become an important measure for how we must proceed for the foreseeable future,” Shaikh said.
“Cyberdisasters are also on the horizon, which could lead to serious dysfunctions of power grids and, like extreme weather events, most of the public is woefully under-prepared for them.” Such events, he added, “can strike suddenly, violently, and instantly throw one's entire existence into peril.”