Tornados in the Ottawa Region: it is Time to Rethink Disasters

The Earth at Night - large cities have a wide reach impacting climate for thousands of miles
The Earth at Night – large cities have a wide reach impacting climate for thousands of miles

By Dr. Tim Ball and Tom Harris

OTTAWA – OPINION –  The injuries and huge property losses from the September 21 tornadoes in the Ottawa/Gatineau (Canada) region are certainly appalling, and condolences are in order. However, seen in a long-term perspective, what humans define as disasters are an opportunity for improvement, just like in nature.

We must rethink disasters and reduce risk as much as reasonably possible but also recognize that they are opportunities to rebuild with better materials, new ideas, and improved planning. People go to London, England and marvel at the remarkable urban planning of streets and Georgian architecture. All of that happened only because of the Great Fire of London in 1666.

It is a world full of risk, yet many environmentalists and promoters of human-caused global warming apparently want people to believe that it is naturally a no-risk world. They want people to accept that the risk exists only because of human activity. The illogic of this is that it implies that there was no risk before humans appeared. It is implied in the deep-rooted anti-human belief at the core of the more extreme elements of the environmental movement.

Yet, it is the presence of humans that define a natural event as a disaster. However, the global warming debate has become so distorted that most people do not understand that hurricanes and tornados are normal events and recent climate change is modest and well within natural variability.

The only real urgency to the climate debate is for politicians and others who want expensive action to combat the supposed problem. After all, a recent national survey showed that public concern about climate change may be fading. CBC News reported on April 4, 2018:

“Nearly a third of Canadians say they’re not convinced that climate change is being caused by human and industrial activity, according to a newly released Abacus Data poll.”

“When it comes to taking action to combat climate change, the number of people who said they want government to focus less on policy to reduce emissions has doubled from eight percent in 2015 to 16 percent in 2018…Climate change comes in near the bottom of the list [of poll respondents’ top public policy priorities].

“Nationally, only 58 percent… said they thought that the primary purpose of a carbon tax was to change behaviour, compared to 42 percent who said the purpose was just to raise money.”

In the U.S., Gallup doesn’t even list climate as a separate concern in its July 2018 poll, lumping it in with other issues in the general “Environment/Pollution” category which garnered only 2% of those polled saying it is “the most important problem facing this country today.”

This trend is even more pronounced internationally, according to the UN’s worldwide poll of 10 million people. “Action taken on climate change” ranks last out of the 16 priorities suggested by the agency.

The environmental movement was originally a necessary paradigm shift when it started in the 1960s. Everybody knew it makes sense not to soil our nest but it went too far. In order to promote the alarm of human-caused change they take normal events and present them as abnormal or unnatural. In the case of the Ottawa/Gatineau tornadoes, The Montreal Gazette reported that Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin blamed climate change as a main reason for this and other recent unusual extreme weather events in his community.

Here is the real reason the tornadoes occurred:

The Jet Stream is a narrow band of strong winds that whip around the planet from west to east about 10 km above the surface. It divides cold air masses, typically found at high latitudes towards the poles, from warm air, typically found at low latitudes towards the tropics. However, when the jet stream is very wavy, as it is now, it allows cold Arctic air to push down toward the Equator and warm tropical air into Polar latitudes. The result is an increase in extreme weather events, including storms such as tornadoes. This was the perfectly normal condition that created the Ottawa/Gatineau tornadoes. It has nothing to do with global warming. In fact, the most common cause of a wavy Jet Stream is global cooling.

So, why are building codes not adequate for the region? Why are electrical systems not buried underground? The cost may be higher initially, but cheaper than the repair, not to mention the loss of lives, property, stress, and misery. The answer is simple. The planning horizon is defined by the average length of time in office for politicians.


Dr. Tim Ball is an environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba. Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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