Research for the Insurance Bureau of Canada on Canadian weather trends predicts even greater extremes than we are seeing now
In each of the last three years insurers in Canada have paid out about a billion dollars for losses resulting from catastrophic events, with 2011 setting a record at $1.7 billion. This is part of a global trend. Munich Re tallied 2011 global losses from natural disasters at $378 billon dollars. Claim payouts have been doubling every five to ten years since the 1980s.
The types of claims insurers are seeing have been changing. Water claims have now surpassed fire as the number one cause of home insurance losses in many parts of the country. There is a great deal of scientific consensus that, as temperatures rise, the conditions for extreme weather events, including heavy and protracted rainfalls, increase. Because of the recent experience with both phenomena—warmer temperatures and extreme weather—the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) commissioned research by Dr. Gordon McBean, one of Canada’s foremost climatologists. The research was based on internationally-reviewed climate science as summarized by reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and material from Environment Canada and a special report from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. We needed to begin to understand what Canada’s weather future might look like. What types of severe weather are most likely to occur in different parts of our country?
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” –Bob Dylan
A National Perspective
Information about weather trends, both nationally and regionally, is vital for beginning the conversation on how best to adapt to changing weather patterns—and to reduce the potential for very large future insured losses and economic costs from extreme weather events. It is the IBC’s hope that this research will act as a catalyst for governments, industry and the Canadian public to identify the weather risks we are facing and to enter discussions about how to mitigate their effects on Canadians’ lives and communities.
One important instrument for adapting to extreme weather in the form of heavier and more frequent rainfalls is to improve Canada’s ground and waste water infrastructure. Today, much of our infrastructure, in addition to being old, was never designed to cope with the increasing intensity, frequency and duration of severe weather events.
We need new infrastructure in many communities and when we build it, we need to know that it will be able to cope with what the future could bring. In a future where one in 20 year events become one in 10-12 year events we need design parameters that take this into account. And we need to educate home and business owners on how to better prepare.
Atlantic Canada: There is likely to be an increase in hurricane and storm activity in the region with resulting storm surges. Freezing rain events will likely increase by 50% in Newfoundland. Nova Scotia could see increases of about 20%.
Quebec: More hot days are coming. Trends point to three times as many days over 30 degrees Celsius for Quebec City as there were in the period 1961-1990. Comparatively, Montreal is expected to see a 60% increase in hot days by 2050. More heavy precipitation, more freezing rain events of more than six hours are probable. Increased forest fire frequency is projected.
Ontario: Summertime warming is likely to be near 2-3 degrees Celsius. Toronto could see significantly more hot days (over 30 degrees Celsius) in summer. Frost-free days in winter in Ontario are expected to double by 2050. The research projects more heavy precipitation. More freezing rain, flash flooding more wildfires are projected with the highest increases over northwestern Ontario.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan: Temperature increases are likely to be greatest in winter and spring in the south, at increases of 3-4 degrees Celsius. Drought and water scarcity are likely to be a growing climate risk through the prairies. More extreme precipitation events and flooding are expected.
Alberta: The province will probably be hard hit by drought and water scarcity due to decreases in summer precipitation, falling lake levels, retreating glacier, decreasing soil-water content and a greater number of dry years. There is likely to be more hail, storms and wildfires. Lightning flash density could increase by 20%, with consequences for wildfires. Once again, heavy rainfall events are projected that can cause flash flooding, and events happening once every 20 years occurring every ten years.
British Columbia: While weather in British Columbia will be variable, overall projections show warmer and wetter weather. The mountain snowpack is expected to decline. It is possible that wildfires could increase significantly in the province’s forests, by 50% or more in the period to 2050.
The North: By 2050 the likelihood of the temperature in Iqaluit exceeding 25 degrees Celsius. could be five times greater than during the ‘80s. There is an overall projected increase in temperature by 2-4 degrees Celsius in the north. The fire season in the Yukon and Northwest Territories will likely increase by ten days, increasing the frequency of evacuations and the risk of property destruction. Sea levels could be 15-25 cm higher.
In addition to the impact on homeowners, these trends have serious implications for small business. Statistics show at least one-quarter of small businesses impacted by a natural disaster never reopen. The smallest of small businesses (i.e. enterprises with fewer than 10 employees) are especially vulnerable, because few have the resources or knowledge needed to assess disaster risks and develop comprehensive mitigation and recovery plans. Still fewer know where to go to access such tools.
The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, created by property and casualty insurers in Canada, offers a variety of tools in an Open for Businessprogram for small business owners (see the June 2011 issue of Canadian Insurance Top Broker). This program not only reduces potential disaster losses but also assists businesses to reopen quickly should disaster strike. The strategies are at its website.
Brokers can request a free Open for Business package, consisting of a pamphlet, disaster planning folder and guide, by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (416) 364-8677.
There is also information on business preparations for severe weather at ibc.ca, under Adapting to Climate Change and the Open for Business section.
Information shared is power. With clear information on Canada’s changing climate and weather trends, insurers and brokers can help clients (and neighbours) prepare homes and businesses to meet the new normal in better ways.
James Geuzebroek is vice president of communications for the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Adaptation: Staying dry when the rains come
Since wet weather is on the rise, here’s some pertinent advice brokers can share with homeowners:
Inside the home
- Move valuable items from the basement to upper floors.
- Use water-resistant building materials below ground level.
- Install a sump pump.
- Install backwater valves or plugs for drains, toilets and other sewer connections.
- Raise large appliances, furnaces, hot water heaters and electrical panels up on wood or cement blocks above the water level. If an item can’t be raised, consider anchoring it and protecting it with a floodwall or shield.
- Anchor fuel tanks to the floor. A fuel tank can tip over or float in a flood, causing fuel to spill or catch fire. Make sure vents and fill-line openings are above flood levels. If you use propane, contact the propane company before proceeding.
- Install flood shields or built-up barriers for basement windows and doors. The tops of the shields should extend above ground level.
- If flooding is imminent, shut off electricity to areas of the home that might be affected.
Outside the home
- Ensure proper lot grading. If possible, build up the ground around the house so water can drain away from basement walls.
- Check sidewalks, patios, decks and driveways to make sure they haven’t settled over time and are causing water to drain toward your house.
- Landscape with native plants and vegetation that resist soil erosion.
- Clear snow away from the house foundation. If the ground is sloped one inch per foot near the house, moving snow just three to five feet from the house will reduce problems.
- Keep water out of window wells.
- Make sure downspouts extend at least six feet from your basement wall. Water should drain away from your house and neighbouring homes toward the street, backyard or back lane.
- Use a rain barrel to catch water runoff.
Copyright 2012 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the June 2012 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.