Cities Unprepared for Climate Shocks and Weather Whiplash

January 14, 2014

It’s a truism that Washington politicians are much more prone to preening and grandstanding than state and local pols, as Washington can be a bit removed from common concerns of working people who are just trying to get through their day.
For the average Republican Congressman, the tether to reality can be still more tenuous. He/She can still ignore climate change, for instance, owing to his/her residence in an alternative, Fox-ified universe.

For the average Mayor, that is not an option.
Local administrators have to actually fill the potholes,  clean up the mess, and make sure people can get to work.

Thomas Heartwell, Mayor, Grand Rapids Mi:

“While climate change deniers were babbling on the airwaves, we were quietly going about our work of becoming a more resilient community with better transit, more energy efficient government buildings, improved bicycle facilities and green infrastructure to address storm water runoff. Every city is, or should be, looking at the impacts of climate change now and into the future. Future generations of Grand Rapidians will look back on this time with gratitude for the far-sightedness of our city.”


Toronto’s top bureaucrat is warning that the city is unprepared to handle the effects of climate change, and badly needs help from higher levels of government to cope with increasingly frequent bouts of extreme weather.
At a special meeting Friday to discuss the pre-Christmas ice storm that left one million people without power, City Manager Joe Pennachetti predicted it won’t be long until Canada’s biggest city is walloped by another major storm.
“We all know that these ‘hundred year storms’ are happening every two years and at the end of the day they’re not going away. It’s probably going to get worse,” he said.
The meeting adjourned at 3:30 p.m. Friday but when it resumes on Monday councillors are expected to vote on a motion asking the provincial and federal government to pick up some of the cost of both last month’s ice storm as well as the July downpour that caused flash floods across the city.
The summer deluge cost $65 million and the winter blast $106 million, for a total of $171 million. City staff are recommending council ask the other levels of government to split the bill evenly three ways, at $57 million each.
Pennachetti stressed that all levels of government not only need to address the cost of the 2013 storms, but also start preparing for fierce weather to visit the region on a regular basis. A recommendation before council calls on Ottawa and Queen’s Park to devise programs to address the long-term affects of climate change on cities.
“We have to work together as partners on solutions for extreme weather. It’s time now to sit down and do that,” he told reporters. “We’ve been highlighting in reports that we know that this is becoming an issue, and we’re finally there. We’re at the point.”
Securing relief from the province and the feds is no sure thing.
Last year the Ontario government rebuffed the city’s first request for help with the cost of the summer rainstorm, and staff aren’t optimistic that the ice storm will qualify Toronto for the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program because it’s generally reserved for small municipalities overwhelmed by major weather events.
But Pennachetti believes the combined damage of the two storms across the GTA will convince the provincial and federal governments to come up with the cash. Mayors from the region will meet next Friday to coordinate their funding requests.
Even if Toronto succeeds in getting disaster aid, it could struggle to pay its own $57-million share. Some of the money could be taken from a $30-million winter weather reserve fund, but depleting the account would leave the city vulnerable to another heavy storm this year.
Councillor Mike Layton argues that the city might be in a better position if it had been quicker to act on protecting itself from climate change.
A major 2012 study warned that infrastructure will need to withstand an increasingly wet and volatile climate in coming decades. But even before that, a 2008 city report titled Ahead of the Storm laid out 29 recommendations to shore up Toronto’s defences, including creating an inventory of susceptible infrastructure, incorporating climate change preparedness in all city divisions’ planning, and devising strategies to help vulnerable populations cope with extreme weather.


GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Temperatures that are finally forecasted to rise above freezing today – and could hit 40 degrees by the weekend – may thaw city streets that are already susceptible to potholes.

The city’s new climate resiliency report suggests that Grand Rapids in future winters will experience more volatile weather patterns that increase freeze-thaw cycles, and it advises that streets “will increasingly be subject to climate-driven stresses and require increased resources even to maintain status quo conditions.”

Grand Rapids City Commissioners this week took a step toward obtaining those resources, giving support for an income tax proposal to go on the May 6 ballot. Final approval of ballot language is expected later this month.

“Because water is our biggest enemy and water freezes, it’s important to maintain our assets now before we get to the point of spending so much money (on road reconstruction),” Second Ward City Commissioner Ruth Kelly said. “The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost us. We really don’t have a choice.”

The weekend warming trend – Grand Rapids hasn’t been above freezing since Dec. 29 – is a recipe for potholes, said Jim Snell, a senior transportation planner with the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council.

“When we have snow and then the snow freezes and then we get the thaw following, it exerts a lot of pressure on the pavement itself,” he said. “The salt will melt the ice and the snow, the water will get down in the cracks (in the road), then sit down in there until it freezes, and when water freeze it expands (and makes cracks bigger).

“That cycle just keeps repeating itself once the surface is compromised.”

Potholes are nothing new to Grand Rapids streets. Here’s a photo gallery of some big ones from 2013, and here’s a gallery of some monsters from 2012.

A city task force recommending an income tax for streets estimates that more than 60 percent of Grand Rapids roads are in poor condition currently and that figure is projected to exceed 90 percent by 2021.

By that time, average temperature in Grand Rapids will increase 2 degrees and precipitation will increase by 2.6 percent, according to the climate report. The report predicts by 2042 that temperatures will be 4 degrees higher and precipitation will be up 8.5 percent, much of that increase coming in winter.

“During the winter months, increased freeze-thaw events may occur within a single season, causing pavement to contract and expand while becoming more susceptible to water infiltration and further damage,” the report states.


The extreme weather that struck large parts of the country this winter has highlighted the inadequacies of Canada’s aging infrastructure.

In Toronto, city crews worked to fill thousands of potholes on Monday that opened up during the weekend when temperatures rose to 7 C.

The sudden spike in the mercury came after a week of frigid temperatures that reached as low as – 40 C with the wind chill.

“We’ve seen an increase of a little more than about 50 per cent,” City of Toronto Road Operations Manager Hector Moreno said. “We’ve got about 4,000 potholes right now from year-to-date compared to 1,500 that we did last year.”

The sudden thaw comes just a few weeks after a major ice storm hit southern Ontario, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power in late December and early January.

Mirza said that Montreal’s problems with potholes, crumbling bridges and aging sewer pipes are being seen right across the country.

He said infrastructure investment is needed in order to maintain Canada’s competitiveness.

“If we don’t do it today, I think we will become a developing country with our infrastructure deteriorated to such an extent that it will influence our productivity and international competitiveness,” he said.

Last June, Mirza projected that there are $1 trillion worth of repairs and improvements that need to be done across the country.

Brock Carlton, the CEO of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said that federal funding for infrastructure has been steadily drying up since its peak in the 1960s.

“It’s near a crisis with roads crumbling and water systems struggling to keep up with growing demand in urban areas,” he said. “These extreme weather events are a classic illustration that just put a spotlight on the general decay of municipal infrastructure in this country.” 


BAY CITY, MI  A week’s worth of heavy precipitation, extreme differences in temperature and enough traffic pounding on the roads proved to be the perfect recipe for potholes across Bay County.

The Bay City Department of Public Works has received calls from about 10 residents so far looking to get potholes filled throughout the city. The Bay County Road Commission saw more of the same across its 14 townships. Crews from both entities were at work on Saturday, Jan. 11, and Monday, Jan. 13, repairing a handful of holes, according to road officials.

“It’s winter time in Michigan, so this doesn’t come as a huge surprise,” said Kurt Hausbeck, Bay City DPW manager. “But the extreme cold followed by the extreme warm temperatures and all of the rain and snow we experienced caused more havoc than we expected.”


15 Responses to “Cities Unprepared for Climate Shocks and Weather Whiplash”

  1. daveburton Says:

    Here’s a better example:

    • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

      When will be the next deep freeze event/glacial phase?

      Scientists have researched that very subject. Per Tzedakis et al 2012,

      “glacial inception would require CO₂ concentrations below preindustrial levels of 280 ppmv”

      For reference, we are at about 398 right now and climbing, so we can be relatively sure the next glacial epoch won’t be happening in our lifetimes.

      But what about further down the road? What happens then? Per Dr Toby Tyrrell (Tyrrell 2007) of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton:

      “Our research shows why atmospheric CO₂ will not return to pre-industrial levels after we stop burning fossil fuels. It shows that it if we use up all known fossil fuels it doesn’t matter at what rate we burn them.

      The result would be the same if we burned them at present rates or at more moderate rates; we would still get the same eventual ice-age-prevention result.”


      “Burning all recoverable fossil fuels could lead to avoidance of the next five ice ages.”

      So no ice ages and no Arctic sea ice recovery the next million years…

      Also covered by Stoat, here:

      The background temperature trend for the preindustrial Holocene period can clearly be seen in the Marcott 2013 paper, until the present where the temperature shoots up at a rate of change unprecedented in the last 300 million years since the Permian extinction.

      A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years Marcott et al

      • philip64 Says:

        Very useful and thorough comment, Andy. Thank you. One for the files!

      • stephengn1 Says:

        Very good Andy, but it can’t match up to “In Search Of” broadcast weekly from 1977 to 1982! Other episodes were about other well known phenomena such as Big Foot, The Loch Ness Monster and “The Mummy’s Curse”

        …daveburton shur knows dem der science

    • So where was the abominable snowman? It would have been simpler to have commented: “Too many words, my dear Peter.” (in the style of Emperor Joseph II to Mozart on first hearing a performance of The Marriage of Figaro – “Too many notes, my dear Mozart.”)

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A “better example” of what, Dave? 35-year-old history?
      (Love the 70’s bell-bottoms and haircut on the scientist)
      What’s your point?

  2. vierotchka Says:

    I remember Obama’s budget requests for billions of dollars for repairing and upgrading the US’ ailing and crumbling infrastructure were all denied by the Republicans, even though they would have provided millions of jobs for years. Now, these sudden changing weather extremes are going to hugely compound the infrastructure problems and cause countless needless deaths.

  3. fortranprog Says:

    It is a major world breakthrough when a Conservative party leader talks of “Climate Change” and starts to support targets and mitigation (and it is reported in the right wing, AGW sceptical, Daily Telegraph). Is the science that began way back in 1824 finally getting through, is there hope in sight ???? Take note Harper and Abbott it is OK to be conservative and take action, many more people may even start supporting you, this applies especially to the GOP.

    Maggie Thatcher and David Cameron global warming champions, both ?

    • fortranprog Says:

      Another report of Cameron’s support on climate change after Haiyan:

      • philip64 Says:

        Unfortunately his chancellor, having described the threat of climate change as a great threat, has been busy undermining efforts at promoting renewable energy, preferring instead a new ‘dash for gas’ via fracking. On balance, Cameron probably understands the need to do something about climate change – his choice of advisers suggests it – but about 70% of his party simply don’t want to know. His rather moderate comments were greeted by his party in the House of Commons with audible groans. A few years ago, the ‘green agenda’ was part of the Conservative party’s reasonably successful rebranding strategy; but it’s largely been ditched now in favour of fending off the swivel-eyed loons of UKIP (climate adviser: Christopher Monckton – need I say more?)

  4. climatebob Says:

    I expect they will sell more fossil fuels to pay for the damage caused by the changing climate which is caused by burning fossil fuels Oh! How much fossil fuel do they have?

  5. […] 2014/01/14: PSinclair: Cities Unprepared for Climate Shocks and Weather Whiplash […]

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