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Natural Disasters In Canada: What Are They + How To Be Ready For One

Are you considering a move to the land of maple syrup? Are you unsure of what kinds of natural disasters there are in Canada? Well, fret not! You’ll be pleased to know that natural disasters in Canada are generally rare. The 2020 World Risk Report, published annually by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, ranked Canada as one of the countries least vulnerable to both natural and man-made disasters. In fact, it came in at 156th place for risk of natural disasters!

However, natural disasters are catastrophic events that result is part of the Earth’s natural processes. In addition, climate change has increased the risk of natural disasters in Canada. Subsequently, we have to take precaution and prepare ourselves for any potential disasters. Here are some of the most common natural disasters in Canada and how you can prepare against them.

Natural disasters in Canada

1. Forest fires

natural disasters in canada
Photo credit: Matt Palmer / Unsplash

Many forest fires start from natural causes such as lightning. However, it is worth noting that they can also be started by people! For example, an open source of fire like a naked flame, cigarette or electric spark might be enough to cause a forest fire – especially in low humidity climates.

In 2019, there were 4000 forest fires in Canada that burned almost 1.8 million hectares of forest. Regions most affected by forest fires are British Columbia and the boreal forests of Ontario, Quebec. Recently, the Fort McMurray forest fires were especially devastating. The fire destroyed 2 thousand buildings and burned down almost 6 thousand square kilometres of forest. In addition, it also forced 80 thousand residents to evacuate the area, the largest ever in Alberta history.

Thankfully, firefighters from the Canadian Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police were there to assist residents. Furthermore, aid for evacuees was provided by the Canadian government and the Canadian Red Cross.

2. Floods

There are a few main causes for floods. During the Canadian winter, most of the precipitation is simply stored as snow or ice on the ground. During the spring melt, huge quantities of water are released, which explains the heavy spring runoff and flooding. This is called freshet. According to the Canadian government website, snowmelt runoff floods are the most common type of flooding in Canada.

These floods generally occur in the spring but might also occur during sudden winter thaws. The recent November 2021 floods have caused severe supply chain blockages across western Canada as well as catastrophic damages to infrastructure. In addition to collapsed highways, the floods also forced a regional oil pipeline to be closed. Vancouver was also choked off as a result of mudslides, which shattered four main roads and two key rail lines.

Moreover, emergency crews in western Canada were still trying to reach over 18 thousand people stranded as a result of the devastating flood. The rise in global temperatures will undoubtedly be a factor that increases flooding in Canada in the coming future. In terms of natural disasters in Canada, this one is probably the most important to take note of.

3. Volcanic eruptions

This might be a new fact for many – there are volcanoes in Canada! Most volcanoes are located in western Canada. Furthermore, most of the active volcanoes are located in Yukon and British Columbia. Both of these areas are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a path along the Pacific Ocean characterised by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. Fun fact: The majority of Earth’s volcanoes and earthquakes actually take place along the Ring of Fire.

Canada has five potentially active volcanic areas, all of which are located in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory:

  1. Garibaldi Volcanic Belt of southwest British Columbia (the northern extension of the American Cascade Arc)
  2. Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field of east central British Columbia
  3. Northern Cordilleran volcanic province of northwest British Columbia (sometimes referred to as the Stikine Volcanic Belt)
  4. Anahim Volcanic Belt of central British Columbia
  5. the Wrangell Volcanic Belt of Alaska and adjacent Yukon Territory

Whilst the last volcanic eruption in Canada took place over a hundred years ago, this is one natural disaster in Canada you should not overlook.

4. Tornadoes

natural disasters in canada
Photo credit: Nikolas Noonan / Unsplash

We’re not in Kansas anymore! Tornadoes are one of the most common natural disasters in Canada. These rotating columns of high wind can move as quickly as 70 kilometres per hour, leaving behind a long trail of destruction. Larger tornadoes have been known to uproot trees, flip cars and completely demolish houses.

A tornadoes’ destructive effect is measured based on five categories: 1 being the lowest impact and 5 being catastrophic. However, it is important to note that the extent of destruction also depends on where it makes landfall – a location with a huge population and many buildings, or an arid land. In 2018, six tornadoes swept across the Ottawa area and Quebec, destroying over 50 homes. Over 25 people were injured, but thankfully, no one died.

5. Earthquakes

Earthquakes are primarily caused by tectonic plate shifts that take place in the earth’s crust. As mentioned previously, parts of Canada falls into the Pacific Ring of Fire. The abundance of volcanoes and earthquakes along the Ring of Fire is caused by the amount of movement of tectonic plates in the area. Along much of the Ring of Fire, plates overlap at convergent boundaries called subduction zones. 

This generates a lot of compressive stress on Canada. The earthquakes are therefore caused by the sudden release of this stress whenever rocks deep underground break and move along a fault line. According to Red Cross Canada, earthquakes in Canada are most common along the three coasts, the Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic. Therefore, the regions most at risk of earthquakes are the coast of British Columbia, the St. Lawrence River and the Ottawa River valley, and in certain parts of the three northern territories.

How to prepare for natural disasters

Notes to prepare for natural disasters
Photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

While we can never escape the effects of Mother Nature, we can do our part to prepare for it. Peruse the following tips below on how to best prepare yourself:

  • Canadian Red Cross

The Canadian Red Cross Society is part of the largest humanitarian network in the world. In addition to learning valuable information about natural disasters in Canada, you can also prepare yourself with courses from the Red Cross. The Red Cross recommends that you keep a disaster preparedness kit in your home with enough supplies to meet your family’s needs for at least 3 days. By taking the time now to store food, water and supplies, you can provide for yourself and your family in an emergency.

Building a kit might seem expensive, but it doesn’t need to be, and it is worth the effort! Download the Build or Buy a Kit list for some tips to get you started. Also check out their emergency plan checklist and prepare and emergency evacuation route for your family.

  • Get insured

Ensure that all valuable liabilities are protected by an insurance plan. This includes your home, valuable materials, vehicles and most importantly, yourself and your family members. Your insurance plan should also cover damages caused by natural occurrences.

  • Familiarise yourself with disaster alerts and warning systems

Alert Ready is Canada’s emergency alerting system. This warning system broadcasts through television, radio, LTE-connected and compatible wireless devices. As Alert Ready works with government agencies, only authorised government agencies can issue alerts. These alerts can include anything from fire risk and natural disasters like flooding to terrorist threats.

  • Be emotionally prepared

This is vital as it helps you stay in control to properly execute emergency plans. It also helps to reduce psychological distress and long-term mental health problems that can ensure as a result of trauma.

How to cope after a natural disaster

Coping with natural disasters in canada
Photo credit: Mojtaba Ravanbakhsh / Unsplash

Surviving a life-threatening event is a very distressing experience and should not be ignored. Feelings of fear, anxiety and even trauma can lead to mental health illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt and more.

Below are some organisations you can consult to receive post-disaster relief and support:

  • Helplines: Hotlines like Hope for Wellness and Canada Suicide Prevention Service provide support and advice for dealing with emotional impacts after surviving a natural disaster.
  • Mental health professionals: Speak to your nearest doctor, counsellor or therapist about your situation.
  • Financial assistance: Check out the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) to find out if you’re eligible for government relief payments after a natural disaster. Visit here to see the various recovery payments available.

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