TVO Articles on Climate Change, Extreme Rainfall and Urban Flooding Omit Basic Fact Checking and Ignore Fundamental Engineering Principles

I have posted comments on three TVO Articles on the topic of climate change, extreme weather, urban flooding and resiliency of Ontario Cities. Readers of this blog will be familiar with the content. It gets a bit repetitive from article to article, only because the data gaps are the same old ones we always see on these topics.

1) How climate change is making storms more intense, Published on Apr 21, 2017 by Tim Alamenciak

https://tvo.org/article/current-affairs/climate-watch/-how-climate-change-is-making-storms-more-intense

My Comments:
This is absolutely incorrect. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) published in Atmosphere-Ocean in 2014 that there is "no detectable trend signal" in the Engineering Climate Datasets related to short-duration rainfall that causes urban flooding:

Windsor has the lowest level of service for floodplain protection (100 year storm) while other regions have Hurricane Hazel (over 500 year storm) - so Windsor / Essex region will flood a lot more that other places. Also Windsor has been effectively tightening up their sanitary sewers to prevent spills to the river (reduced combined sewer overflows (CSOs)) which means more stays in the sewers and can back-up basements in extreme weather. Its a tough trade-off when environmental protection (keeping sewage out of the river) means more sewage in basements.
This is a recent summary of ECCC data as well as studies my Ontario universities and major engineering consultants saying decreases in extreme rainfall in Ontario. In fact there are twice as many statistically significant decreasing trends as increasing ones in southern Ontario (per the version 2.3 Engineering Climate Datasets - links to ECCC data files are all provided on the slides:

This presentation to the Ontario Waterworks Association and Water Environment Association of Ontario's Joint Climate Change Committee does extensive myth-busting related to extreme rainfall and flooding and explore the true drivers to increased flood events (spoiler-alert: its engineering hydrology and hydraulics, not meteorology). It also shows how the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship (theory relating temperature to extreme rainfall) has been disproved by research at MIT, Columbia and the University of Western. Unfortunately, there are lot of opinions and high level statements that are made without data. This is a pervasive problem in the media. When fact checking does occur, Advertising Standards Canada, the CBC Ombudsman and Canadian Underwriters have all agreed that there is no change to extreme rainfall. Here are some examples of that:
More data / facts / details:
Windsor decreasing extreme rainfall trends (Engineering Climate Datasets version 2.3 Station ID 6139525) - decreasing for ALL storm durations, and statistically significant decreases for durations of 10 minutes, 2 hours, 6 hours and 12 hours:

CBC Ombudsman confirms with ECCC, and disputes insurance industry statements that we have more storms (see letter to me):
http://www.cityfloodmap.com/2015/10/bogus-statements-on-storms-in-cbcnewsca.html

That was in response to this story that had no fact-checking:

And which had this correction made based on ECCC and real data: "However, Environment Canada says it has recently looked at the trends in heavy rainfall events and there were "no significant changes" in the Windsor region between 1953 and 2012." Canadian Underwriter editors dispute insurance industry statement on more frequent / severe storms after fact-checking with ECCC:
"Associate Editor’s Note: In the 2012 report Telling the Weather Story, commissioned to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Professor Gordon McBean writes: “Weather events that used to happen once every 40 years are now happening once every six years in some regions in the country.” A footnote cites “Environment Canada: Intensity-Duration-Frequency Tables and Graphs.” However, a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada told Canadian Underwriter that ECCC’s studies “have not shown evidence to support” this statement."
We can explain most increased flooding by hydrological changes over the past 100 years (same rain a before but more runoff than before as urban areas have expanded drastically across GTA watersheds over the past 60 years):
http://www.cityfloodmap.com/2016/08/urbanization-and-runoff-explain.html

... and specifically here is are the changes in hydrology in southern Ontario cities including the Windsor area:
We can also explain increased flooding with hydraulics related to municipal drainage design (tanks to hold back water and protect beaches can back up into basements like in my Toronto "Area 32" engineering flood study report), and related to overland flow in 'lost rivers' that statistically explain the highest concentrations of reported basement flooding:
Basically, hydrologic stresses have increases (more runoff) and conveyance capacity has decreased (reduced CSO relief, tanks to protect beaches, blocked overland flow paths in old 'lost rivers'). Underpinned/excavated basements are now lower than before, closer to the crown of the sewer pipes in the street and more prone to sewage back-ups than before, with no change in rainfall extremes due to climate change.
Robert J. Muir, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.
Toronto

2) How climate change is already costing you money, Published on Nov 01, 2017 by Patrick Metzger
https://tvo.org/article/current-affairs/climate-watch/how-climate-change-is-already-costing-you-money
My Comments:

There are many false statements in this article and a lack of basic science, statistics or critical engineering considerations. I am a licensed Professional Engineer with extensive experience in extreme weather statistics and municipal infrastructure planning and design (26 years) - this article is like 100's of others, skimming the surface and missing the critical data and conclusions, reinforcing stale pundit talking points in the climate-change-echo-chamber. Please see below for what is wrong with the article.
Firstly, the article conflates climate and weather which have different temporal scales. Climate includes rainfall and precipitation over seasons, years and decades while weather related to flooding in urban areas involves rainfall over minutes and hours. So the cited increase in precipitation is irrelevant to urban flooding and insurance since precipitation trends over months and years do not govern the performance of infrastructure systems (storm sewers, sanitary sewers, drainage channels and overland flow paths) - that infrastructure is governed by extreme rainfall rates over minutes and hours. It is an undeniable engineering fact. And these short duration rainfall intensities are 'flat' across Canada according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, as published in Atmosphere-Ocean in 2014 - in fact ECCC stated that some regions have decreasing trends including the St Lawrence basin in Quebec and the Maritimes.

My own fact checking of the Engineering Climate Datasets (version 2.3 on the ECCC ftp site) shows twice as many statistically significant decreases in southern Ontario as increases, and for the critical shortest durations, no statistically significant increases at all. Here is a review of the typical insurance industry statements and the real data:

Over the past two weeks I have correspondence from 3 scientists at ECCC stating that the annual precipitation statistic (climate) is irrelevant to urban flooding and the short duration rainfall (extreme weather) is what we should be looking at - across Canada the relevant data shows 'no detectable trend signal'. TVO should check the background of those providing information for these articles to see if the academic and practical experience aligned with the technical topic being discussed.
It is too easy to just try and may headlines and exercise 'availability bias', 'anchoring bias' and other problem-solving short cuts with discussing extreme weather and flooding. It is more responsible to look at real data and fact-check articles because there is important public policy on climate adaptation and mitigation that relies on the proper characterization of the problems that we are solving. Blaming flooding on rainfall trends misdirects resources to mitigation when it should be focused on adaptation to yesterday's extremes (due to intrinsic design limitations in 50-100 year old infrastructure and land use planning). Chief economists at major banks have repeated IBC statements on extreme weather shifts with no fact checking whatsoever - the Sun, the Star, CBC and individual insurance companies have repeated it too without checking. They have been fact checking with ECCC recently though and the consensus is that there is no shift in extreme rainfall and IBC mixed up a theoretical future shift (of an arbitrary 'bell curve' no less) and had reported it extensively as a past observation by ECCC. ECCC has denied that their data shows any increase in severe weather with climate change.
Some examples of ECCC refuting insurance industry claims:

Ombudsman confirms with ECCC, and disputes insurance industry statements that we have more storms (see letter to me):

That was in response to this story that had no fact-checking:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/more-than-half-of-homeowners-insurance-claims-stem-from-water-damage-broker-says-1.3291111

And which had this correction made based on ECCC and real data: "However, Environment Canada says it has recently looked at the trends in heavy rainfall events and there were "no significant changes" in the Windsor region between 1953 and 2012."

Canadian Underwriter editors dispute insurance industry statement on more frequent / severe storms after fact-checking with ECCC:

"Associate Editor’s Note: In the 2012 report Telling the Weather Story, commissioned to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Professor Gordon McBean writes: “Weather events that used to happen once every 40 years are now happening once every six years in some regions in the country.” A footnote cites “Environment Canada: Intensity-Duration-Frequency Tables and Graphs.” However, a spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada told Canadian Underwriter that ECCC’s studies “have not shown evidence to support” this statement."
Lastly, the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship linking temperature to extreme rainfall have been shown to not hold up based on real observed data. This is a review of those findings in studies from MIT, Columbia and University of Western (in London and Moncton trends are flat, while in Vancouver there is less extreme rainfall at higher temperatures):

Its time for a lot more basic fact checking on climate change, extreme weather and flooding. There is too much 'thinking fast' and not enough 'thinking slow', as shown in this review of media reporting biases through the lens of Kahneman:
http://www.cityfloodmap.com/2015/11/thinking-fast-and-slow-about-extreme.html

Unfortunately, as Kahneman puts it ""People are not accustomed to thinking hard, and are often content to trust a plausible judgment that comes to mind.", American Economic Review 93 (5) December 2003, p. 1450
"Only the small secrets need to be protected. The big ones are kept secret by public incredulity."(attributed to Marshall McLuhan) .. .so true, especially when we rely on infographics and slogans and ignore basic data in our reporting.
Robert J. Muir, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.
Toronto

3) How Ontario cities battle climate change, Published on Dec 01, 2015 by Daniel Kitts

https://tvo.org/article/current-affairs/the-next-ontario/how-ontario-cities-battle-climate-change
My Comments:

Mr Adams is correct is questioning Mr Kitts 'facts'. Because the official national Engineering Climate Datasets show no detectable trend in extreme rainfall in Canada. This was published in Atmosphere-Ocean in 2014 and looks at the critical short duration rainfall rain intensities that drive urban flooding. Here is a review that explore that national data in detail, drilling down to Ontario and southern Ontario trends and showing why insurance industry statements on higher weather frequency shifts were exposed to be 'made up' (confusing arbitrary future predictions with past observations):


Citing IPCC is irrelevant in the context of urban flooding in Ontario cities .. IPCC's definition of 'heavy rainfall' is the 95% percentile of daily rain with in Toronto is about 29 mm of rain - that is big for 'climate' but tiny for 'weather'. Typically storms have to be 3 times that big to cause urban flooding and most new communities are designed to handle 100-year design storms with built-in resiliency measures / safety factors to handle larger storms (if we see a hockey stick and get more extreme rain in the future).
Recently I made presentation to the Ontario Waterworks and Water Environment of Ontario's Joint Climate Change Committee on city resiliency and adaptation. In it there is wealth of basic media myth-busting many would benefit from. It includes explanations of why we have more flooding from a quantitative engineering perspective, exploring hydrologic stresses and intrinsic hydraulic design limitations in 50-100 year old infrastructure and land use planning:

It shows for example that 2017 Lake Ontario levels, while above average, were not very extreme looking back at 100 years of record (we exceeded past records by about 5 cm in some months which is naturally what happens with longer and longer records and the updated operating 'rule curves' for the lakes). It shows that the Richmond Hill GO Train was flooded in 1981 (just like 2013) in the exact same spot, even though the Ontario government suggests the 2013 flood was due to climate change. It shows that during the highest short duration rainfall recorded in Toronto in 1962 there was extensive basement and roadway flooding (this is not a new phenomenon at all). It shows numerous studies at the University of Guelph, University of Waterloo and major engineering consultants that Ontario extreme rainfall in decreasing and that extreme rainfall is not coupled to temperature changes. It shows significant urbanization in Oakville, Burlington and the rest of the Golden Horseshoe wince the 1960's and how we have paved up to the upper limit of the Burlington escarpment headwater watershed in that time - its hydrology that explains the increased flooding, not meteorology! This blog post shows the drainage paths in Burlington a little better than the OWWA WEAO presentation at the link above:

These change in hydrology and runoff potential are undeniable and dwarf any noise in the extreme rainfall statistics. The 'new normal' is in fact the 'old extremes' that we have always had .. the system response is more severe however with greater runoff into the same 50-100 year old infrastructure and confined channels along the lower portions of our watersheds. When it comes to urban flooding, only Milli Vanilli 'Blame it on the Rain'. Nobody cares about hydrology. Canada's greatest hydrologist Vit Klemes once lamented about this saying If you have not read it, please see his key note address to International Interdisciplinary Conference on Predictions for Hydrology, Ecology, and Water Resources Management: Using Data and Models to Benefit Society, entitled "Political Pressures in Water Resources Management. Do they influence predictions?"

Basically you could say that today on Ontario it is not unlike the communist Czech Republic that Dr Klemes describes in his address, where predictions (climate change) becomes prescriptions, despite the facts and data. And the media is so far out of touch that we cannot put the
genie back in the bottle and the government is playing along pretending to help solve problems while ignoring true causes.
As our Dr Klemes spoke in Prague:

"[the theorists] find it easier to play trivial scenario-generating computer games while the [managers] find these games much easier to finance... And so by happy collusion of interests, an impression is created that 'something is being done for the future' while the real problems are quietly allowed to grow through neglect of the present"

That is 100% correct. We are ignoring the present risks of today related to hydrology and blaming our flood problems on a climate change computer game (Weather Zoltar if you will). RIP Dr Klemes .. I still remember your guest lecture in our undergraduate class and wish you were around to speak truth to power on this topic.
TVO you have to raise the bar on this topic and demand basic fact checking especially given ECCC statements, corrections by Advertising Standards Canada, CBC Ombudsman, Canadian Underwriters ....

Robert J. Muir, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.
Toronto

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