Alberta, Colorado floods compared
Thursday, Feb 06, 2014 06:00 am
Nearly eight months after the milestone event, 50 researchers, academics, government scientists and engineers from across North America will gather in Canmore to participate in a workshop focused on the study and understanding of the 2013 floods that engulfed a wide swath of southern Alberta, including Canmore.
Speakers will include Canmore Mayor John Borrowman and Town of Canmore manager of engineering Andy Esarte, in addition to hydrologists and hydrometeorologists from universities and research centres in Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Washington D.C., Whitehorse, Boulder, Colorado and Fairbanks, Alaska. The purpose of the workshop is to evaluate, analyse and synthesize a case study of extreme weather and hydrology with a focus on the 2013 floods of Western Canada.
The free event, which is open to the public, takes place on Wednesday (Feb. 12) at Canmore Collegiate High School, at 7:30 p.m.
Most of those attending are members of the Changing Cold Regions Network (CCRN), a NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) funded research network led by the University of Saskatchewan. The CCRN’s objectives are to integrate existing and new sources of data with improved predictive and observational tools vital to understanding, diagnosing and predicting interactions among the cryospheric, ecological, hydrological and climatic components of the planet’s changing systems, with a geographic focus on Western Canada’s rapidly changing cold interior.
A key organizer of the workshop is Canmore resident Dr. John Pomeroy, the U of S director of hydrology who runs a network of field monitoring sites in the Rockies as part of the Canadian Rockies Hydrological Observatory and Coldwater Laboratory in Kananaskis.
“We are hosting it in Canmore because much of the flood of 2013 started due to high precipitation in this area, and because the University of Saskatchewan, and hence the Changing Cold Regions Network, had a large science research presence when the flood hit,” Pomeroy said.
One of the focus areas of the CCRN is the Canadian Rockies, he added, with a key area of study being extreme meteorological and hydrological events, such as the 2013 flood.
“Because of the Canadian Rockies Hydrological Observatory and Coldwater Laboratory in Kananaskis, researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and the CCRN have the opportunity to conduct specialized analysis of the climate, weather and hydrology associated with the flood,” Pomeroy said.
Dr. Roy Rasmussen, a hydrometeorologist and the senior scientist and director of the Hydrometeorology Applications Program at the Research Applications Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, will share a presentation on Wednesday, Feb. 12 that offers comparisons to the 2013 floods that hit Alberta and Colorado in 2013.
Having earned his PhD from UCLA in atmospheric science, Rasmussen’s field of study involves improving the understanding of the earth’s current and future water cycle, with a particular focus on orographic precipitation – precipitation that results from the lifting of moist air over a physical barrier, such as a mountain range.
After experiencing the high effect of the Colorado flood on people living in the front range of that state, Rasmussen said it’s worthwhile to compare what happened there with the flooding that swamped a large portion of southern Alberta.
“Some of the common issues include the ability of radars to properly estimate rainfall rates, the accuracy of the operational forecast, and the method to simulate the flooding,” Rasmussen said.
The most important lessons to be taken from the floods in both places include the need to improve the analysis and forecasting of precipitation and the resulting flood. As well, scientists must examine how best the impact of these types of floods might be mitigated in the future.
To that end, scientists such as Rasmussen must continually improve their climate models in order to be able to simulate local conditions accurately and obtain data that can be used to verify the models.
“The importance of Dr. Rasmussen’s talk is the opportunity to learn about the mechanics of the weather systems and subsequent flooding that occurred in the Colorado front ranges in September 2013, and start to compare them to what happened in this region in June,” Pomeroy said. “Boulder had much greater rainfall volume than did Canmore, but both involved extremely heavy volumes of precipitation on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and then destructive and rapid flooding of mountain and plains communities.
“It is useful to understand both the similarities and the differences and also to what degree these events are influenced by climate change – which has been predicted to increase the intensity of extreme events around the word.
“This is critical in assessing the likelihood of future floods of the size seen in Canmore or Boulder, which influences how prepared we need to be for the next one.”
Rasmussen’s presentation will be followed by an open panel discussion with U of S Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security Howard Wheater, Kevin Shook, research scientist at the U of S Centre for Hydrology, Rasmussen and Pomeroy.