The Pacific Northwest has been getting pummeled by storms that have dropped months of rainfall all at once. The torrential rainstorms have caused so much damage that at one point Vancouver was cut off from the rest of Canada. A river even carved out a new channel that goes straight through a city. Let’s look at what’s going on.
Historic levels of rain fell on British Columbia, Canada and western Washington State on November 14. Meteorologists called it an Atmospheric River, a weather feature that the Weather Channel describes as both a blessing and a curse. An Atmospheric River is a column of moisture that travels from the tropics into higher latitudes.
Western Washington State and British Columbia have experienced three of these events in the past few weeks and more rain is on the way. The first Atmospheric River brought as much rain in one weekend as the region gets in just one month. CBC News reports that 24 communities in British Columbia received more than 4 inches of rain that weekend, with the town of Hope topping the chart at a whopping ten inches.
On one hand, Atmospheric River events are essential. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that up to 50 percent of the west coast’s precipitation comes from Atmospheric Rivers and they add to the water. However, when the Atmospheric River events are severe, they can cause a lot of heartache and damage.
Highways were completely washed out and bridges were ruined. Hundreds of motorists had to be rescued from roadways, including 311 people trapped on a portion of Highway 7.
Photos are circulating of people getting around on personal watercraft, rescuing each other and livestock in the nick of time. Perhaps the most stunning event happened in the city of Merritt, when the Coldwater River not just broke its banks, but carved an entirely new channel.
Unfortunately, that new channel flows straight through the city. Thankfully, residents have been evacuated, but the new river channel means that it can be some time before they can return.
An area of Highway 1 (part of the Trans-Canada Highway) at Tank Hill collapsed, destroying the road and damaging a section of railway.
This particular area was noted for being at risk for landslides and flooding after the wildfires that plagued the area during the summer, reports CBC News. Damage to trackage and roads over the province means that ships piled up at the Port of Vancouver, unable to unload because containers have nowhere to go.
Meanwhile, fuel rationing is still in effect, with residents of many areas limited to purchases of no more than 8 gallons for non-essential travel.
The British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is working as hard as it can to restore the trashed infrastructure, but it’s going to be a long process. We aren’t talking about small sections of roads washed out, here, but stretches of highways that have been practically erased. This is what Highway 8 looked like before.
And here’s how it looks now.
Canadian Pacific Railway’s crews have also been hard at work, repairing some thirty sections of damaged infrastructure. CP says that its corridor links the province and its port to the rest of Canada and North America. One of those sections is that rail bridge at Tank Hill.
Along with rebuilding the ground that was lost, CP’s crews implemented what’s called a shoofly track around the damaged bridge. This track is a temporary diversion to get the rail line running again and as a photo from Reddit user theadvenger shows, it cuts through what’s left of the highway.
Canadian Pacific says that service has been restored and the first trains have entered the province, providing grains and fuel to the region.
The resulting landslides have led to four deaths and some are still missing. Recovery is going to take a while, but people are working together in an incredible effort to restore something resembling normalcy.