After a strange winter with relatively mild and snow-free conditions, several people are asking, What's up with the weather? The changing weather patterns have also prompted experts to take a closer look at how the Greater Toronto Area is adapting to climate change and increasing extreme weather events.
The cost to cover those affected by extreme weather hit a new high in 2011 and officials fear bad losses are becoming more common. As a result, over 50 public, private and not-for-profit organizations have joined forces to come up with a plan to protect the city from future damaging events.
"Extreme weather events are increasing in Toronto and surrounding area," says Blair Feltmate, Co-Chair of the WeatherWise Partnership, a CivicAction and City of Toronto initiative. "In response to that, the question is; are businesses and the City of Toronto overall prepared to deal with extreme weather events? And then more specifically, what are the key areas of vulnerability that need to be addressed?"
Feltmate adds that the development of a strategic plan will help to protect the region from similar storms that have caused significant damage in the past.
"The area that most people focus on is called 'freaky Friday,' which happened in mid-August 2005. That's where we had about 160 mm of rainfall over a period of about three hours. That cost the City of Toronto alone about $47 million and then for the insurance sector, it cost just under $600 million in claims."
By taking action ahead of extreme weather events, businesses and home owners can reduce the vulnerability of their facilities.
Feltmate says the group has decided to focus on the vulnerabilities of the electricity infrastructure in particular, due to Toronto's aging equipment and a system near capacity.
"So for example, if there was an extreme heat wave or extreme rainfall event that for some reason shut down power supply in the city, what are the vulnerabilities of certain infrastructure or businesses that need to be run? And in the absence of electricity, do they have adequate back-up generation capacity?"
He adds that there is almost an endless array of questions that need to be addressed with the consideration of adapting to climate change.
"If we continue to build things business as usual, not taking adaptation into account, we will end up paying more in the long run...So when we build new things, we want to do it smartly. We don't want to have management by disaster, we want to think ahead of the curve."
The strategic plan for the Toronto region will be shared widely at a regional forum later this year.