Nova Scotia

NSCC researchers predicted areas that could be hit hard by Fiona's storm surge. They were right.

A team of researchers in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley say their mapping predictions of Fiona's damage were largely accurate, and could provide valuable information for communities and people looking to build near coastlines in the future.

Online mapping tool can predict which areas will be prone to coastal flooding

The team at NSCC looked at the storm surge in Brule, N.S., which knocked these cottages off their foundations and pushed them back. (NSCC Applied Geomatics Research Group)

As Fiona approached Nova Scotia, a team of researchers at the Nova Scotia Community College turned to their mapping program to see how communities could be affected by the storm surge.

Days after the post-tropical storm devastated parts of the province, they realized most of their predictions were accurate.

"I think this gives us a good wake-up call in terms of our vulnerability there and to take the appropriate mitigation actions moving forward," said Tim Webster, a research scientist with NSCC's Applied Geomatics Research Group in Middleton, N.S.

The mapping tool uses storm surge predictions from Environment Canada to show exactly what that would mean along the coast. It factors in variables such as elevation and tides to give a detailed estimate of which buildings would be vulnerable.

Tim Webster says the mapping tool can help guide locations of future infrastructure developments along the coast, ensuring they won't be vulnerable to storm surge and rising sea levels. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

The project was launched in 2017, but Webster said Fiona was the first opportunity to put a significant storm to the test. He said places that had some level of "armouring" such as seawalls proved ineffective when facing Fiona's forceful winds and waves.

"Many people did not have sufficient material," he said. "Either the rocks weren't big enough or high enough. So that's something as a takeaway message in the future. This idea of building stronger, building better."

The team also documented areas where several cottages were knocked off their foundations and pushed back by the water.

Researchers looked at this part of the Northumberland shore, which had a beach and rock wall to protect the home from the water. (NSCC Applied Geomatics Research Group)
With an estimated 0.8-metre wave run-up, the total water level was projected to be 2.9 metres. This projection has been placed over a photo taken after the storm to compare the water level to the wrack line, or line of debris left by the ocean. (NSCC Applied Geomatics Research Group)
Pictured here is the area after the storm without the projected water level. It shows significant erosion accompanied the flooding. (NSCC Applied Geomatics Research Group)

"Many of these areas are next to marshes and so forth," said Webster. "That should be a sign to us there that it's a low-lying area and could be inundated."

Webster is encouraging people and communities to use the free mapping tool to look at how another storm like Fiona could affect shorelines in the future.

Webster said that information needs to be factored into future developments.

Storm surge expected to be a major problem during Fiona

3 months ago
Duration 5:05
Tim Webster, a research scientist at the Nova Scotia Community College, shares a computerized prediction of what could happen along part of the north shore of Nova Scotia during the storm.

The program has calculations for all of Nova Scotia's coastline, as well as parts of P.E.I. and New Brunswick. Webster hopes to expand it.

"It's certainly not perfect, but quite close and gives a good warning in terms of what your vulnerability is," he said.

"I think if we're going to err on any side, probably to err on overestimating what could be damaged rather than somebody thinking that they're safe, rather than risking life and limb."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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