Life Below Zero follows six people as they battle for the most basic necessities in the state with the lowest population density in the United States. Living at the ends of the world’s loneliest roads and subsisting off the rugged Alaskan bush, they battle whiteout snow storms, man-eating carnivores, questionable frozen terrain, and limited resources through a long and bitter winter.
Some of them are lone wolves; others have their families beside them. All must overcome despairing odds to brave the wild and survive through to the spring. And when spring arrives in Alaska, rising temperatures bring mounting challenges as they work to prepare for yet another winter.
City staff say they will forge ahead with plans to implement a “resilience strategy” this spring despite the news earlier this month that the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program will end funding and wrap up operations by this summer.
“(Despite) the announcement from 100RC, we continue with the development of our strategy. We’re just kind of ready to cross the finish line here,” deputy city manager Brad Stevens said following the announcement from the Rockefeller Foundation. “We’ll be releasing our strategy in the next couple of months.”
Calgary was first selected in 2016 to join the network of global cities — including New York, Toronto and Mexico City — to tackle problems facing urban centres, including high unemployment, economic diversification and extreme weather events.
Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, and more costly. According to one estimate, natural disasters caused about $340 billion in damage across the world in 2017. And insurers had to pay out a record $138 billion. The $5 trillion global insurance industry plays a huge role in the U.S. economy. Insurance spending in 2017 made up about 11 percent of America’s GDP.
Natural disasters cost the USA $91 billion in 2018, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The report’s findings are a sign that the changing climate and increasing numbers of extreme weather events are having a significant economic impact, even as the Trump administration continues to undo Obama-era climate regulations.
Natural disasters cost $155 billion this year, and several of them struck the United States particularly hard. Hurricanes Michael and Florence, the California wildfires and Hawaii’s volcano eruption are all on the list of the most expensive global disasters of 2018, according to the Zurich-based reinsurance company Swiss Re.
However, global insured losses are estimated at around US$79 billion, higher than the annual average for the previous 10 years. Natural disasters accounted for US$71 billion in insured losses, while man-made disasters accounted for US$8 billion.
“Like last year, the losses from the 2018 series of events highlight the increasing vulnerability of the ever-growing concentration of humans and property values on coastlines and in the urban-wildlife interface,” Swiss Re said of its report. “The very presence of human and property assets in areas such as these means extreme weather conditions can quickly turn into catastrophe events in terms of losses inflicted.”
Mr. Bianchi, meteorologist and Director of Strategic Development for Climate and Terrestrial Weather at Wood’s Met-Ocean Services, offered some helpful tips for community planners and emergency managers at an event earlier this year in Markham, Ontario.
The day-long conference, hosted by the City of Markham and Calian Emergency Management, touched on several important issues for community events, including planning for festivals, policing tactics, food safety, training exercises and large crowd planning.
Weather is the number one threat to safety at events and festivals
Weather is the number one threat to safety at events and festivals, says Mr. Bianchi. Unfortunately, community events and festivals are not well enough prepared for severe weather. While festival organizers are improving their preparedness, he notices a distinct difference in the U.S., where the National Weather Service is more active in supporting preparedness than agencies in Canada.
Mr. Bianchi offered several tips and suggestions at the May 24 forum in Markham. Some of those follow.
Do a hazard assessment
Understand the hazards for your region – which in Canada are often lightning, severe temperatures and high winds.
Lightning is a particularly common threat in southern Ontario. During rain and thunder storms, festival-goers often seek shelter under trees, which is one of the most dangerous places to be because they are vulnerable to lightning strikes. When there’s lightning, he says, the safest place to be is in a fully enclosed building or in your car. The car creates a Faraday cage whereby the electrical charge travels along the car’s external metal surface to the ground – meaning you’re safe inside in a protective metal shell.
Too often, people do not drink enough water and festivals may not stock adequate amounts
Sun exposure and extreme heat is another significant risk at festivals. Too often, people do not drink enough water and festivals may not stock adequate amounts. Ensure there is plenty of water available. Some festivals offer “cooling tents” that mist cold water onto the people inside.
The same goes for extreme cold. Have warming stations or areas where people can take a break from the cold, and serve warm drinks to help warm the body’s core. Efforts such as these help people reduce the hypothermic effects of extreme cold.
Strong, straight-line winds related to thunderstorms are another common threat, which can carry flying debris. Children’s bouncy castles can be dangerous in high winds when they are not properly anchored. Mr. Bianchi says wind gusts of 80 kilometres per hour can lift these inflatable structures high into the air, with children inside. A solid weather preparedness plan would inform organizers when it’s time to pull the plug on the castle, deflating it.
Test and retest
Test your plan and then test it again, says Mr. Bianchi, who was meteorologist for the 2015 Pan American Games. Repetitive testing and table-top exercises ensure people know their responsibilities and actions: “At Pan Am, we tested the same scenario many times – until you can do it in your sleep.”
Create a plan, with thresholds
“Every venue – big or small – has to have a plan, period,” Mr. Bianchi says. The plan should include a hazard assessment and a thorough a review of structures and systems — such as tents, lighting and power – to ensure they are safe and that organizers understand their limits in severe weather.
Establish clear thresholds for actions. Everyone involved must know and understand the thresholds in advance of the event – and that they are not negotiable when the weather starts to get rough. “You have to have clear expectations about when you’re going to pull the pin, and what you’re going to do. That’s critical,” Bianchi says.
Consider using weather watchers at the event. Mr. Bianchi recommends Environment Canada’s CANWARN program for free training that teaches people the various signs of severe weather – and where to look for signs of it in terms of visual cues.
Ensure your weather watchers start monitoring the weather days before the event begins. Get into the rhythm of holding morning weather briefings.
Be sure to have backups on your communications equipment, batteries and weather monitoring tools. Too often, Mr. Bianchi has seen these critical tools fail without backups.
“My motto in life is have a backup on a backup on a backup,” he says. “Always develop several ways of getting information out and getting information in. Have those backups, because you never know when one of them fails, or they both fail.”
If lightning is a common threat in the area, consider purchasing a lightning detector. They cost about $600 and can provide vital information such as the window of time before a storm arrives and how long before it clears.
For smartphone radar apps, Mr. Bianchi recommends RadarScope (radarscope.io; he says it’s well worth the $14).
Be very careful about the myriad of weather websites out there because many of them are unreliable, sometimes presenting the wrong data.
For large events, appoint someone on your team work with the local emergency management office. The officials will offer professional advice and tips.
“You have to nowadays, with weather events being so intense,” Mr. Bianchi says. “[Weather] events are changing. We have to address that.”
Provide clear, visible signs about what spaces are available in the event of an emergency or severe weather, and what attendees should do.
Additionally, Mr. Bianchi suggests setting up a large screen where festival-goers can see the radar and weather updates. It raises the situational awareness of the crowd. They’ll see a storm as it approaches and expect further guidance from organizers on what to do.
Impact Forecasting has published the latest edition of its monthly Global Catastrophe Recap report, which evaluates the impact of the natural disaster events that occurred worldwide during May 2017.
Several low pressure systems that brought heavy rainfall to portions of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes last month caused “hundreds of millions” in U.S. dollars and damaged more than 5,200 homes, according to Impact Forecasting’s latest Global Catastrophe Recap for the month of May.
Also in Canada, throughout April, southern portions of British Columbia experienced prolonged periods of rainfall, leaving several rivers well above normal for the time of year. Further heavy rainfall on May 5 led to several of these rivers overflowing their banks. At least two people were killed and hundreds were evacuated as flooding impacted B.C.’s Southern Interior. Economic losses were anticipated in the tens of millions in U.S. dollars.
Elsewhere in the world, the combination of the arrival of a southwest monsoon and a developing tropical cyclone led to significant rainfall across Sri Lanka, killing at least 213 people, with another 77 people listed as missing and presumed dead. Nearly 150 others were injured. Flooding and landslides affected 15 of the country’s 25 districts and left more than 22,200 homes damaged or destroyed, the statement said.
“With the onset of the annual monsoon season for many Asian nations, the events seen in the month of May provided a potential precursor to some of the impacts typically experienced in the region during the months of June, July, and August,” said Claire Darbinyan, Impact Forecasting’s associate director and meteorologist, in the statement.
Other natural hazard events that occurred throughout the world in May include:
Powerful thunderstorms led to widespread hail and wind damage in parts of Canada, Russia, China and Bangladesh. Total combined economic losses were well beyond US$100 million;
Cyclone Mora made landfall in Bangladesh, prompting widespread flood and wind damage. At least nine people were killed and a combined 50,000 homes and other structures were damaged. Overall aggregated losses were expected to exceed US$100 million;
Cyclone Donna became the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere during the month of May. The storm tracked through the South Pacific Islands and caused extensive damage in parts of the Vanuatu island chain, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. Total economic damages were expected “well in the millions” in U.S. dollars;
Heavy rainfall in the northeastern Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Alagoas prompted widespread flooding and mudslides that claimed at least 12 lives. As many as 85,000 people were left homeless. Economic loss was estimated at more than US$100 million;
Multiple regions of the globe dealt with worsening drought conditions. In China, the northern provincial areas of Inner Mongolia, Hebei and Liaoning cited agricultural losses of at least US$122 million. The ongoing drought in South Africa saw costs likely to exceed US$100 million; and
Separate moderate earthquake events struck Iran (magnitude-5.8) and China (magnitude-5.4), killing 11 people and injuring hundreds more. Thousands of homes collapsed.
On Aug. 23, 2005, a troubling tropical depression began to form just off the coast of the southeastern Bahama Islands. Six days later, after first making landfall in southern Florida as a Category 3 storm, Hurricane Katrina would hit southeastern Louisiana with winds up to 140 mph, leaving in its wake a path of destruction and damage that would render almost half of a million people homeless.
Its name became so infamous that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) chose to remove it permanently from their list of potential hurricane names the following year.
But what exactly constitutes a retired storm name? And how do hurricanes even get their name in the first place?
Dan Kottlowski, a senior AccuWeather meteorologist offered an explanation as to how the system works and where it came from:
“During World War II, it became highly noticed that [the United States] was losing ships in the west Pacific because of hurricanes. So, coming out of the war, a large amount of research took place to understand these storms and make people more aware of them. As a part of that project, [the military] started naming them.”
Kottlowski went on to explain that initially, these names were based on the military’s phonetic alphabet. However, beginning in 1979, the WMO started using a repeating system of human names in an effort to standardize the practice.
The system works differently depending on where the storm in question occurs. Hurricanes occurring in the Atlantic basin are named based upon six, alphabetized, 21-name lists (Q, U, X, Y and Z are all skipped). The lists cycle on a six-year rotation, so every seventh year, the process reverts back to the first list.
In the event that more than 21 storms occur within a single hurricane season, which happened most recently in 2005, the Greek alphabet is utilized to name the remaining storms.
The Eastern Pacific basin uses the same cycling list system; however, its lists consist of 24 names (only Q and U are skipped). Different names are also utilized for each letter to better represent the traditions of that particular region.
The outlier is the Central North Pacific basin. Hurricanes in this region are named based on four, 12-name lists and, rather than cycle through the lists year by year like the other two basins, the Central North Pacific goes through the names one by one, starting a new list only when the bottom of the previous is reached.
In order to earn a name, systems must exhibit sustained winds of 39 mph, the lower limit for tropical storm categorization. Once sustained winds pass 73 mph, the storm is then officially referred to as a hurricane.
Storms below the 39 mph threshold are simply referred to as tropical depressions, which are not given names.
When it comes to retiring storm names, Kottlowski explained that the process, although subjective, is generally fairly consistent.
“Almost every large, devastating storm that has ever affected the United States has been retired,” he said. “Those names are [subsequently] replaced by other names.”
The decision to retire a storm’s name is made at the WMO’s yearly conference.
A complete list of hurricane names by basin can be found here.
Canadian farmers will soon have another tool in their toolbox for dealing with risk on the farm.
The federal government invested $786,921 towards the development of an online resource to help farmers manage uncontrollable challenges, according to a May 25 release.
Farm Management Canada will develop AgriShield to monitor a variety of farm risks, including pests, flooding, disease and extreme weather events.
Francis Drouin, member of Parliament, made the announcement today in Embrun, Ontario.
“Canadian farmers face risk every day and it is essential they have the necessary tools to better understand and manage risk. The recent flooding in Eastern Ontario and Quebec, for example, shows the need to help farmers more effectively manage risk, so that they can be stronger, more innovative and more competitive.”
AgriShield will allow producers to assess these risks and the potential impacts on their farm in real-time. In a flooding situation, for example, producers could determine their degree of risk, the impacts the flood would have on their farms, and if there are any ways to mitigate the risk, such as drainage or insurance.
The tool is also a way to bring awareness to the importance of risk management, according to Heather Watson, executive director for Farm Management Canada.
“Less than one third of Canada’s farmers have a risk management plan. Our ultimate goal is to increase the awareness and adoption of risk management practices and planning as part of the farm management process and cultivate a more comprehensive understanding and approach to assessing and managing risk within the agricultural sector.”
The benchmarking data in the tool will be useful for not only farmers but also for agriculture businesses and commodity groups, says Watson, who also mentions the tool is still in its early stage of development.
“First and foremost, we want farmers to be able to use this tool directly to identify, assess, prioritize and plan their risk management activities. With a better understanding of risk, farm managers are more likely to take the right risks, mitigate the bad, and continue to profit. The tool will not only allow farmers to identify, prioritize and plan for risk, but will also equip farmers with a wide variety of options available to manage risk.”