Calgary Flood 2013: Man vs Nature

Perhaps it is a bit early to be calling the flood of 2013 the flood of the century, but it sure looks that way.  I have lived in Calgary for over 30 years and have never seen anything like this.  

As Mayor Nenshi pointed out the flood is "bad and good" for Calgary. BAD in the destruction and costs that it will take to restore the city's infrastructure back to its pre-flood state, but "GOOD" in how the community has come together to help out family friends and strangers. There was no looting, no hysteria, not deaths (in the City of Calgary) everyone was calm and rational.  Perhaps it was our pragmatic pioneer independent spirit showing through.  Without exception Calgarians have bonded over this emergency enhancing an already strong the sense of community.   

While over 100,000 Calgarians were evacuated the need for alternative accommodations was met mostly by "family and friends," only a handful of schools and public buildings were needed.  As soon as a "state of emergency" was called local social media was swamped  with people offering their home not only to family and friends. but to strangers.  I saw one tweet that said "I don't have an extra bed, but I have a comfy couch if anyone needs it," others were offering food, meals and donations.  Twitter was full of tweets expressing citizens' praise and respect for our emergency workers and city staff.  

It was also impressive how the Mayor, Premier and Prime Minister were on site quickly sharing information with Calgarians about what was happening and what was going to be done.  Nenshi, Redford and Harper all showed tremendous leadership in the face of a pending crisis, as did all the Alderman, MLA's, Police and Fire Chief.  I believe this leadership was instrumental in keeping Calgarians calm and allowing for an orderly evacuation of 75,000 people in a matter of a few hours. 

On Saturday, while the city didn't return to normal, people were starting to go about there normal weekend activities.  The City Centre was full of people walking and cycling along or near the river trying to grasp an understanding of what had happened.  

Already Calgarians were ready to move on.  Stampede was planning on how in two weeks they were going to produce a parade for over 100,000 people and host over 1 million people for the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" on a flooded Stampede Park - nobody doubts it will happen.

It was surreal to know that billions of dollars of damage happened in just one day. It was a lesson in humility taught by mother nature.

The following pictures have been appropriated from various tweets, images sent by friends in emails and my own.   


"Patience, common courtesy and politeness everywhere - in traffic, in grocery stores and on pathways.  Everyone was being a good neighbour.  I never heard a horn honk despite likely the worst traffic gridlock Calgary has ever seen. Friendliness everywhere - groups of people talking as if they had known each other for years.  Tragedy brings out the best in our society." GG

 "Interesting to note that there was no Canadian flags jury rigged over a damage house, no flag waving of any sort.  Also no comments about being saved or survived because of the Lord.  Very different atmosphere than when disasters strike in US." BG

"It was a lesson in humility taught by mother nature. Unfortunately the Climate Change computer modelling predicts weather will become more chaotic and intense.  Unfortunately this may well not be the flood of the century." BB (scientist)

History of Bow River Floods:

The Bow River has been flooding for centuries maybe millennium.  Read more about the history of the Bow River floods. 

 Related media comments: 

"...we are also a wired city. With high levels of penetration in mobile devices and social media – the city has 760,000 people on Facebook (over 70 per cent of the population) – we begin to see how connectivity fuels the city’s spirit.  When the relatively short evacuation notice arrived on Thursday, our connected population used online channels to get the word more  Brian Singh, Globe & Mail, June 23rd.    

Personal Stories: 

Lisa Kadane about her families experience. "When we heard our neighbourhood was being evacuated on Thursday evening I wasn’t yet thinking like a refugee, weighing in my head what I couldn’t live without. Instead, we packed up the laptops and some suitcases in an orderly fashion, and even sat down to a family dinner to eat the damn meatloaf. Honestly, I thought the emergency response was a bit much; that they were being too cautious. After all, our house and neighbourhood had survived the flood of ’05!"  Read  More  

The Numbers: 

At one point the water flow in the Bow River was on par with that of Niagara Falls.  The Atlantic Cities produced a good summary of the Calgary Flood 2013's facts and figures. Read more.

Aerial image of Prince's Island, Calgary's summer playground totally flooded.  In many ways this is the heart of the city.  

Access to one of the pedestrian/bike bridges over the Bow River from the northside to downtown flooded.  Normally thousands of Calgarians use these stairs and ramps.  

Panoramic view of Stampede Park totally flooded.  Normally the Elbow River is just a quiet river at the based of the bluff maybe 15 meters wide at most.

New 4th Street SE underpass flooded. Water must be 10 meters deep.  Luckily it was designed to flood.  Kudos to all of the engineers who have worked on Calgary's downtown infrastructure as they have handled the flood with little or no damage. 

Sandy Beach pedestrian bridge is probably one of the few pieces of infrastructure to be damaged. The Elbow River at this point is usually only a few feet deep.  A popular place for people and dogs to play in the river. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper surveying the damage.  Our politicians were amazing in their leadership as they were calm and articulate in the face of disaster.  Our emergency officers and city staff were tireless in their efforts.  The emergency response plan was outstanding.  

Alderman Gael MacLeod with volunteers sorting out clothes for those who were evacuated which included homeless shelters and affordable housing for seniors.  As soon as a state of emergency was called Calgarians were asking how can they help.  Calgary has a longstanding culture of caring and volunteering.  

Macleod Trail is one of the major downtown streets with City Hall, Municipal Building, Central Library, EPCOR Performing Arts Centre and Olympic Plaza all fronting onto the Trail.  

At the end of the day Friday an amazing double rainbow appeared, as if mother nature was saying better times are ahead. 

On Saturday (next day) people flocked to the flooded areas to see for them the damage.  Along the Crescent Heights bluff that has a commanding view of the downtown and Bow River valley hundreds of people lined the promenade for an expansive view of the flooding of Prince's Island and the northern edge of downtown. 

On the ground the military were already moving in to determine how best to clean up the mess.  

Eerie image of the lower deck of the Centre Street Bridge that was right at the height of the Bow River as it crested.  You can see some of the mud but otherwise no damage. While I was there a larger log floating down the river crashed into this bridge with a loud crack like a bomb going off and yet the bridge acted like it didn't even care.  I tip my hat to the engineers who designed these structures.   


This is what Prince's Island lagoon looks like today.  The next photo shows what it looked like before and what it will hopefully look like after.  

Nature has a strange way of teaching humans to be humble. 

Inside Calgary's state of the art Emergency Operations Centre hundreds of professionals from various disciplines are implementing a coordinated emergency response. Some are working 20+ hour shifts. 

Rendering of Calgary's Emergency Operations Centre.