Natural Hazards - 2003

Sound Science Can Lead to Improved Forecasting and Mitigation of Natural Hazards

The Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) is the non-profit scientific organization representing Canadian atmospheric and oceanic scientists and professionals. Since 1963, the goal of CMOS has been the advancement of meteorology and oceanography in Canada. CMOS has a special committee charged with the examination of timely scientific issues.

The Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society recognizes that natural hazards (for example, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, tsunamis, storm surges, avalanches) are geophysical phenomena that are an inherent part of our dynamic Earth system. They can cause deaths, immense human suffering, material and ecosystem damage when they hit vulnerable communities. Recent examples in Canada are droughts over the Canadian prairies in summer 2002, the 1998 ice storm in Quebec and eastern Ontario (the single most costly natural hazard to date in Canada with an estimated economic impact of over $5 billion), the 1996 Saguenay and 1997 Red River floods in Quebec and Manitoba respectively, the PEI storm surge of January 2000, the Pine Lake tornado in Alberta in summer 2000, and the 1982 Ocean Ranger storm which precipitated the loss of the offshore drilling platform off Newfoundland. A widespread scientific consensus is emerging that the frequency and characteristics of these hazards may be altered in the decades to come as the climate changes.

CMOS scientists can provide, through an understanding of the physical causes of natural hazards, a strong basis for developing effective strategies to reduce their impact in part through more accurate predictions with longer lead times. The scientific effort of monitoring, analysis and prediction has to be coupled with issues such as emergency preparedness, dissemination of warnings, public education and awareness, post-disaster recovery and building design codes. To reduce the adverse effects of natural hazards, it is thus important to have a coordinated approach involving scientists, government ministries, policy makers, the private sector and the public.

CMOS recommends the enhancement of Canadian capabilities to warn and inform Canadians about impending natural hazards and their characteristics, continuing research on the physical causes of these hazards, dissemination of relevant results to decision makers and the public, and multidisciplinary efforts to implement effective coping strategies in Canada and abroad.

April 2003