COLUMN: Great weather, possibly great cost

Amazing the difference a day or two makes. Last week most of the province was cold and wet, with snow falling on the Coquihalla.

Amazing the difference a day or two makes. Last week most of the province was cold and wet, with snow falling on the Coquihalla.

A warm weekend and suddenly we have wildfires, outdoor burning bans, and home evacuations in the central Interior. Apparently in the Kamloops fire district, the forests are “tinder dry,” though I’ll bet that at mid-elevation levels there’s still lots of snow under the tree canopy.

Apparently, snow conditions across much of the province, despite the “dryness” created by the sudden onset of hot weather, are 135 per cent of normal, and in the remainder it’s something like 120 per cent of normal.

In other words, on the ground it’s wet with melting snow threatening serious flooding – above the ground we have explosive conditions portending disaster in the woods. Fire and pestilence! What a great way to kick off a late spring, early summer.

I promised back at Christmas that I’d take my eldest grandson, and perhaps a cousin or two of his, fishing on a couple of my favourite Interior lakes. Due to ice on the lakes, the promise was not expected to be delivered until late this month, and now it suddenly seems possible we could be spending the evening without a cheery blaze, because today in the southern Interior, an open burning ban will be instituted.

Fortunately, the forest service usually allows campfires, but if things are so bad in the woods right now, you can bet even they will be off-limits later in the year.

In the meantime, I’d be bracing for wet feet if I lived on the lowlands adjacent to the Fraser River. With the snowpack this year, I’ve long been predicting that conditions are right for a possible flood of epic proportions.

The only thing, in my uneducated opinion, that will prevent the Fraser from breeching a dike or two is a return to long, cool stretches of weather. If that doesn’t occur, and selfishly I would rather it didn’t as I’ve had enough of cloud and cool this year, the economic impact could be severe.

I’d hate to have to tell my grandkids we can’t go fishing because the freeway is closed due to flooding, and the farms that raise our food and support our economy are in ruins.

In a worse-case scenario, catastrophic flooding in the valley will essentially cut off the Lower Mainland from the rest of the province. Road traffic on both sides of the Fraser out to Hope could be closed, rail lines washed out. No way to get our goods to the ports, no way to get food and other goods to the Interior, other than perhaps the “long and slow way” through Whistler to Lillooet, where incidentally, the current wildfire has shut down the roads, and thence to Highway 97.

Other than that route, things will grind to a halt. Farms and homes, shopping malls and schools will be inundated.

Pollution, contamination and environmental damage will be far-reaching and long-lasting.

Sounds like the apocalypse, but it has happened before, and it is only a matter of time until it happens again. Today, however, unlike 1948 and 1894, the cost of damage, remediation and loss will be enormous because of development and investment, and the huge economic ties we now have to the transport of commodities.

And since insurance companies are only willing to provide flood coverage to those who live on mountains, or well above flood-plain, the personal and corporate losses could, in many respects, be crippling.

So enjoy the sunshine and fabulous weather we are now experiencing, but remember that it may come at great cost to all of us.

markrushton@abbynews.com