Earthquakes and Hurricanes, from the Comfortable Mid-Continent


Nature – that is, a generic term in this case for “climate” and “geography” – forbid, if my city ever suffers from an earthquake or a hurricane then half of the continent may well be dead. The natural disasters my area’s prone to are floods and tornadoes. Floods are well known and well prepared for, and the biggest threat is a north-bound river that slowly directs its flooded waters this way, with plenty of warning from the American towns on its way. Tornadoes have plenty of room to develop in this vastly flat land and its accompanying free winds, but I live amongst the tallest buildings in a 1000 kilometre span with relatively narrow roads between. It would take a very strong tornado to tear down all the buildings between my home and where there’s enough space for all the factors that form a tornado to begin with.

There was an earthquake last week around Vancouver while Hurricane – or I believe it was technically classified by then, Storm – Sandy was hitting the dense population nucleus of the mid-Atlantic US, that brought heavy rains up into Canadian territory. Earthquakes you can’t really see coming, despite what the Italian justice system may think, and hurricanes you can only predict the path after they’ve formed. Hurricanes move far more quickly than the flooding Red River and there’s less preparation or prevention that can be done. The damages are more severe because more happens above the surface, and flying objects do more harm than water alone. I don’t think the threat of flooding, particularly since we have floodways built to reroute it, comes close to the threat of what hurricanes can cause.

We have winter storms, mind you, and blizzards typically contribute to later flooding, and blizzards come with typically less warning than hurricanes. Ice storms are also a threat, and in other parts of Canada they have in the past caused similar damage with cutting power when it’s direly needed to keep people heated. But like the infrastructure in place to divert flooding, snow is a known fact of life every year, and we have snow plows on hand. As a kid I only got to stay home for two school days, both in a row and following spring break, after a major blizzard in 1997 that quickly melted to lead to one of the worst floods of the Red River ever recorded. The damages I remember don’t seem nearly as bad as what many hurricanes since have left behind.

The point I’m trying to get to is I feel quite safe from the vengefulness of weather relative to the rest of the civilizations that surround me. But I offer my sympathies and cooperation, and modest charitable donations, to my compatriots who have seen it worse, and who will continue to see it worse as climate change stirs up more mega-storms. Weather happens, floods have always happened, and seismic activity may not be affected by cows farting or too many Hummers on the road but the combination of changes and chance will only make these things worse. This is not just an occurrence; it’s part of a pattern. Stop denying that the arctic ice melting won’t affect how societies across the world can function. Stop forgetting the previous year’s drought and heat wave, and saying that this one is just what happens from time to time. I have less to lose than most people in North America, and the world as a whole since coastal areas are far more densely populated, and far more lit at night as seen from satellites in the sky. The worst will happen after I die, and I won’t have children and grandchildren to worry about. Yet I care. And yet so many others refuse to. Stop it. Listen to what we know. And stop refusing to do anything about it.


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