Quebecers who have lived in California for several years are noticing that climate change is happening with increasing frequency and intensity, such as the torrential rains of recent weeks.
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“Two days ago my yard was a river, I couldn’t take the dog with me because there was so much water,” says Nelly Pereira of Sacramento, a two-hour drive from the bay.
La Lavalloise moved to the region five years ago for love. She had never seen so much water in this American state known for its drought.
“On my street, the cars were halfway under water, people couldn’t get out of the house. People kayaked. It was intense,” says the man, who works from home as a sports coach.
Photo courtesy of Christian Plante
This creek near San Jose is usually just a trickle.
Windier than before
The back-to-back storms and downpours have claimed 19 lives and caused flooding in several locations in the United States’ most populous state.
“It’s been raining every day for four weeks,” says Lisane Drouin discouraged
The West Montreal occupational therapist has lived in Silicon Valley for over 25 years. She says she and her patients have seen temperatures change in as many years.
“It’s a lot windier than before. We’re having increasingly violent winds and that’s what I call it with the torrential rains we’ve had, California’s fifth season,” the health worker explains.
She lists in English the four typical seasons that Californians describe: earthquakes, wildfires, landslides, and droughts.
From one extreme to the other
“These are very short seasons. You can also say there is summer and winter,” jokes Christian Plante, who lives in San Jose. He moved from Quebec in 2000 to work in electronics and also sees the impact of climate change.
Photo courtesy of Christian Plante
For more than 20 years in San Jose, Christian Plante has noticed that summer heat waves become more intense.
“When we arrived, it was 40 degrees for weeks, we had a few a year, now it’s several weeks before it gets uncomfortable,” says the fifty-year-old.
He adds that in the summer of 2020, the heatwaves were so severe that the air was “musty” for weeks because of the wildfires.
Extreme phenomena will return
The torrential rains that have hit California in recent weeks are just a taste of the impact of climate change North Americans can expect in the future, according to an expert.
“We will see large changes in precipitation patterns with intensities that will increase, especially for short periods of time,” fears Philippe Gachon, professor and researcher in hydroclimatology at UQAM.
The climate change specialist explains that California is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the arrival of heavy rains due to its geographical location near the Pacific Ocean and its mountains, which favor runoff.
The most populous state in the United States has experienced significant droughts and heat waves in recent years. California is also regularly affected by forest fires.
With global warming, this syndrome of “water excess and scarcity” is likely to return, challenging infrastructures such as drainage systems that are not designed to withstand such high intensities in such a short time,” Philippe Gachon points out.
California is not the only region in North America affected by extreme weather events.
“In the west of the country we have seen the coldest temperatures in the last 30 or 40 years,” points out Philippe Gachon, who recalls that the mercury has fallen to -35C, even -40C in some British areas in Columbia and the west coast of the United States in December.
Nova Scotia has had its dose of rain and sleet since early 2023.
An underestimated magnitude
Mr. Gachon goes so far as to say that North America is one of the most affected regions in the world by climate change.
“Canadians and Americans underestimate the extent of the changes we will experience,” emphasizes the expert.
He points out that the continent experiences all kinds of systems that are at the root of water excess and scarcity. “There is no other equivalent in the world. There are no tornadoes or tropical cyclones in Europe. In Asia yes. But in Canada we are breaking the record for freezing rain and snowstorms,” he illustrates.
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