Ottawa in 2050: Extreme weather events

Climate change means more winter storms, more freezing rain and more severe winds. The top risks from extreme weather are increased slips, falls and injuries, extended power outages, mental, physical and financial pressures, difficulty accessing essential services and more damaged roads and buildings.

By 2050 there will be an increased likelihood of extreme weather events such as flooding, heat waves, ice storms and severe winds.

Ottawa’s weather is becoming more variable and unpredictable. In recent years we have experienced more extreme heat, wind, rain and winter storms. Some examples of extreme weather events in Ottawa include:

  • Five successive ice storms in January 1998, which caused massive damage to trees and electrical infrastructure causing widespread power outages and a shutdown of activities across Ottawa and the region for several weeks. The storm is the second most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history with $2.3 billion in insurance payouts.
  • Over 50 cm of snow in February 2016, which caused closures throughout the city and set a new record for the biggest snowfall in a single day
  • Significant flooding along the Ottawa River in the spring of 2017 and 2019 resulted in extensive property damage and health concerns
  • Tornadoes in 2018 and 2019 caused extensive damage to property and prolonged power outages.
  • A prolonged extreme heat event that lasted six days in July 2018. On Canada Day, at the hottest time of the day, humidex levels made it feel like 47 degrees Celsius.
  • The Ontario-Quebec derecho in May 2022 that killed 10 people, caused widespread property damage and left hundreds of thousands of people in Ottawa without power for several days. The storm is the sixth most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history.

What we are expecting

By the 2050s, under a high-emission scenario, we can expect:

  • Favourable conditions for ice storms or severe snow storms, tornadoes and high wind gusts, droughts and wildfires
  • Increase in freezing rain and ice storms – the colder months will likely see more freezing rain due to the increase of days around zero degrees Celsius.

You can find out more details of what to expect in the 2030s and 2080s in the Summary of the Future Climate in Canada’s Capital Region.

What are the top risks from an increase in extreme events?

  • Increased winter maintenance of roads, sidewalks and pathways due to freeze-thaw cycles and freezing rain
  • Increased risk of slips and falls and isolation due to icy sidewalks
  • Reduced ability of City and community services to effectively respond to simultaneous or repeated extreme events
  • Extended power outages when electrical infrastructure is damaged
  • Reduced access to essential services such as healthcare, education, food banks and transit during extreme weather impacting residents

More information about the climate impacts facing Ottawa is available in the Climate Vulnerability and Risk Assessment.

Who is most vulnerable?

Extreme events put everyone at risk, but they disproportionally impact populations such as Indigenous Peoples, older adults, low income, homeless and racialized people. More remote rural populations may have reduced access to roads and utilities. Persons with disabilities or mobility issues may be homebound as they wait for snow and ice to be cleared. Those living in communities that have experienced past emergencies may also experience increased anxiety.

How can you prepare?

We all have a role to play in preparing for the impacts of changing weather patterns and extreme events. Find out what you can do, what the City is doing and visit the Resource Hub (coming soon) where we have additional resources that can help communities prepare for climate change.

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