Stormy thoughts

Since the winter storms, climate change and sea level rise have been top-of-mind around here. On January 7 a king tide combined with high winds caused an immense amount of damage along the city’s coastline. Large sections of the seawall were destroyed. The dog beach beside the museum was flooded, and sections of Heritage Harbour were damaged. Is this a sign of things to come?

Sea levels are currently rising and they will continue to rise. This is a fact. The province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver expect there will be a half metre rise by 2050 and a metre rise by 2100.

Where do king tides fit in?

King tides are naturally occurring tides that are higher than usual. As events they have nothing to do with climate change, but they can help us understand it. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “king tides provide a glimpse of future everyday water levels, and they are a way to communicate local sea level rise impacts over long time periods.”

It’s true. After last week, Vancouverites have a new understanding of sea level rise.

Several years ago, the BC Ministry of the Environment launched a Flickr group for people to share king tide photos. More recently, the City of Vancouver asked citizens to help document sea level rise by taking photos during king tides.

Last week’s event was a combined storm and king tide, so the impacts don’t correlate directly. Friday’s tide was 4.81 metres. An average high tide in Vancouver is around 4 metres. So, by 2100 an average high tide will be higher than what we saw on Friday. On January 4, though, the tide was at 4.98 m and nothing dramatic happened. It’s that storm combo that makes things scary.

As sea levels rise, storms are going to have greater impacts. And climate change brings more storms to this part of the world. We’re already seeing this in action. The floods in November, the heat dome in the summer—these are signs that we are experiencing the impacts of climate change today.

What can be done?

You can take action in all sorts of ways. We all can do something to reduce our personal footprints. Making one climate-friendly life change can be empowering. And we can stay engaged with climate change issues. Write letters, sign petitions—let decision makers know that climate change is a priority.

Learn about the City of Vancouver Climate Change Adaption Strategy. Familiarize yourself with the provincial climate strategey and federal climate initiatives