Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Toronto Storm of July 8th 2013

It's the day after the storm and I've had one night to adjust from "all hands on deck" mode, to my current state of "I'm really quite angry" mode.

In short, last night's events were a disaster from a planning perspective, both at home and out in society at large.  The information that was available was mixed up.  The feeling that the city was appreciating the mess it's people were in was not there.

Yes, last night was exceptional from a rainfall event standpoint, but let's get serious for a minute - it was known before this storm hit, that it would be bigger than rainfall events that we have experienced recently where lots of damage has occurred, so you'd expect there to be some visible action.

Here's the twitter feed from the city's 311 office.  Note that they didn't once advise people on anything basement flooding related over the past 20 hours, nor did they point to the Toronto OEM feed.

Looking at the Toronto OEM feed, the only information that went out throughout the storm was a single message to do with a power outage.

Finally, whilst on the subject of social media, trying to figure out a) where the information was and b) how old it was, was a challenge.  You have CP24 using #flood24, CityNews using #cityflood and SMEM-related people using #TOStorm.  I have no idea what the municipal services were using.  That information never reached me at least.  When you did see news, it wasn't time-stamped, so we ended up at 8PM seeing "Breaking" news from 5PM still doing the rounds.  

The bulk of the rainfall fell in one hour - approximately 74mm of it.  Put another way - we have a city that is not built to withstand under 3 inches of rain.  Toronto had 121mm during Hurricance Hazel in 1954, so this is something that has happened in living memory - yet 2.9inches in one hour did this much damage?

To compound the infrastructure issues, there was idiotic decision making.  Only a month or so ago, we saw heavy rains take out the DVP when the river Don swelled, yet last night someone thought it a bright and safe idea to let a GO Train travel through the same area, and of course it got stuck with 400 people on board and they had to be rescued by a marine unit.  

Toronto's Pearson International Airport (you know, the one with the logo of a man that's fallen from the sky and splattered on the ground) lost their website servers because they'd put them in the basement and of course, it got flooded.  

Who makes these decisions?

Of course, as a homeowner, I'm equally pissed that we got flooded again.  After last year, which resulted in $23,000 of restoration work when we'd only been in the house less than a year, I've done a lot to improve it's flood-proofing, but this all costs money so only some of it is currently in place.  Whilst we were mostly prepared, I made a simple cock-up in the house plans which meant delays in fixing the issue, but we won't make that mistake twice.

Here's the real thing that makes me angry though:
The water table is cresting the basement floors in our street.  My basement is 130ft higher than the Don River, we had 3 inches of rain, yet the water table came up several feet to flood the basement.  

Think about that for a second.  If you put 3 inches of rain over a bucket, the water rises 3 inches.  If you put three inches of water over some land, you get 3 inches of water soaking into the land, minus what runs off to the sides.  In East York, you put 3 inches of water on the land and your water table goes up some 18 inches or more.

What that points to, is someone else is draining into East York and the City has done bugger-all to fix it!

Is this the model of a city that has a grip on it's own climate?