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Adapting to changing extreme weather events: experts weigh in

Surrey Board of Trade hosted a panel of experts and a roundtable discussion Tuesday
Panellist speaking at Surrey Board of Trade’s “Surrey Leadership Dialogue: Extreme Weather - Snow, Rain, Fire, Heat… How Do We Keep the Economy Moving?” on Feb. 27, 2024. (Photo: Anna Burns)

As snowflakes start to fall in Surrey Tuesday, should it be business as usual?

According to Andréanne Doyon, PhD, assistant professor & director of the planning program at Simon Fraser University, we need a change in thinking.

“We’re expecting business as usual when it snows; we probably shouldn’t be,” Doyon said.

According to a special weather statement from Environment Canada, a “wintry mix of precipitation” is expected for Surrey from Tuesday evening (Feb. 27) through Wednesday (Feb. 28). Up to 5 cm of snowfall accumulation is expected.

“There may be a significant impact on rush hour traffic in urban areas. Be prepared to adjust your driving with changing road conditions,” reads the Environment Canada statement.

READ MORE: Snow and rain expected Tuesday for Lower Mainland

Environment Canada echoes Doyon’s words.

“I think the bigger conversation is what practices, cultures, habitats, do we need to adapt to here for our changing weather patterns,” Doyon said.

The Surrey Board of Trade hosted a roundtable discussion and panel with industry experts on extreme weather on Tuesday (Feb. 27) at the Civic Hotel. Panellists, along with Doyon, were Yonatan Yohannes, director of engineering operations from the City of Surrey, and Betsy Agar, director of buildings for the Pembina Institute.

“It is really a timely discussion on extreme weather and how to ensure we don’t have an economic meltdown when it comes to extreme weather,” Anita Huberman, president of Surrey Board of Trade, said.

“It really is about focusing on…how we can work together with all levels of government to create solutions to ensure that people can still work and that the economy can still continue to move,” Huberman added.

The discussion will be used to help inform the advocacy agenda of the Surrey Board of Trade.

One attendee asked Yohannes from the City of Surrey what policies it can create during extreme weather, like snow, to encourage people to work from home.

Yohannes said, it is not the City’s place to create that kind of policies, but the employers’.

Doyon jumped in and said it was not about creating a policy but about a change in culture.

She pointed to Calgary as an example.

The City of Calgary budgets approximately $54 million annually for snow removal, which Doyon said was not a lot considering the amount of snowfall the City gets. In the 2021/ 2022 winter season, the City reported in an annual report it got over 125 cm of snow.

There are a few things that set Calgary a part from Surrey in terms of snow, Doyon said.

“There’s an understanding of what’s essential and what’s not essential in terms of travel,” Doyon said.

Snow is also a regular occurrence, so Calgarians often are not shocked when they get a blast of winter weather. They know how to adjust their expectations accordingly, Doy0n added.

People often have the appropriate tires for the conditions and know how to drive in snowy weather.

During extreme weather events, employers should encourage remote work for those who are able to do so, Doyon said. For some, working from home may not be possible. This may require investing in winter tires and allowing for more travel time, Doyon said.

A slide from Yonatan Yohannes, director of engineering operations from the City of Surrey presentation. Yohannes, spoke about the city’s coastal flood adaptation strategy and the steps it takes to be a “zero-carbon resilient” city by 2050. (Photo: Anna Burns)
A slide from Betsy Agar, director of buildings for the Pembina Institute, presentation. Agar spoke about the impact extreme weather has had on Canadians. She spoke about “deep retrofit solutions” that can contribute to healthy homes and workspaces. (Photo: Anna Burns)

-With files from Dillon White

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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