Canada's weather extremes — But you ain't seen nothin' yet

Posted Mar 1, 2016 by Karen Graham
Canada is a country of weather extremes, from bone-numbing cold to scorching heat and drenching rains to droughts. But as the old-timers say, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
File photo: A woman facing the snow storm in Toronto.
File photo: A woman facing the snow storm in Toronto.
Chung Ho Leung
According to Environment Canada's top climate modeler, Greg Flato, by 2050 — and this is within the lifetime of most Canadians — climate change will have become well established if current emissions haven't changed, reports CTV News Canada.
February has already gone down in the record books as being warmer than normal, and the forecast through May of this year is calling for warmer than normal spring temperatures with the exception of Labrador and Northern Quebec.
People walking and jumping on volcanic tuffs and enjoying a sunny day at Garibaldi Lake  BC  Canada.
People walking and jumping on volcanic tuffs and enjoying a sunny day at Garibaldi Lake, BC, Canada.
And today's forecast is one for the books, too. The third winter storm in three weeks is expected to drop as much as 25 centimeters of snow on Southern Ontario and Quebec before it's finished, yet in the western part of the country, people will be enjoying spring-like temperatures.
What the future holds for Canada
As March begins, Earth has set its ninth straight monthly heat record. Looking ahead, across Canada, temperatures will be warmer by an average of two degrees, and it will be wetter, by about five percent. This seemingly modest warming may be good news for farmers and gardeners, extending the growing season and allowing for different and more abundant crops.
But keep in mind Canada's extremes of natural variability, and this means climate change may not come in gently. It could be a bumpy ride. "The kind of changes one anticipates are more likelihood of drought or more likelihood of wet periods," said Flato.
Flato points out that when we think of temperature extremes, this means the likelihood of getting very hot extremes becomes greater, as well as the likelihood of getting very cold extremes becomes greater, too. He says the extra rain is unlikely to fall as gentle showers, but will come as flooding downpours, rushing off the land before it can sink into the soil.
Receding Wedgemount Glacier in the area of Wedgemount Lake  between Whistler and Pemberton  BC  Cana...
Receding Wedgemount Glacier in the area of Wedgemount Lake, between Whistler and Pemberton, BC, Canada
John Pomeroy, a Canada research chair in water resources at the University of Saskatchewan, points out that water falling as snow has already declined by as much as 50 percent in the prairies, and at the same time, rains lasting for many days have increased at the same rate. "Farmers need to adapt to that, to being inundated and flooded quite a bit," he said.
Again, looking at this change in water availability through rain or snow, this means more heat-loving corn may be seen in Canada's fields, yet more rain and more extreme heat could end up canceling each other out, especially in southern Canada.
Canada's forests will also be affected
Warmer temperatures can damage forests. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, milder temperatures bring in the pine beetles, killing the trees and turning the parched forests into tinder boxes, ripe for brush fires, warns the Standard-Freeholder.
The number of wildfires in British Columbia  Canada have dropped to 169  from 177 earlier today.
The number of wildfires in British Columbia, Canada have dropped to 169, from 177 earlier today.
CTV News
With fire seasons starting earlier every year in North America, it does not bode well for our forests. Natural Resources Canada says the Aspens in the boreal forests of Canada are dying at twice the historic rate, "part of a larger-scale pattern of climate-related dieback episodes."
By the year 2050, the southern edges of the boreal forests will have turned into a new prairie. "Drought-prone spruce will be lost first, followed by pines and then aspen, to be replaced by some form of prairie grassland," said a 2009 report from the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers.
Mike Demuth of the Geological Survey of Canada says Canadian cities in the west can't rely on glaciers for a water source much longer. "Glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are pretty much going the way of the dodo bird," he said. And it doesn't stop with a lack of a water source, either.
Fisheries are already being impacted by temperature extremes. "We are already seeing (fish) species shifting their distributions," said William Cheung of the University of British Columbia. "Warmer water species from the south are appearing in the north area and some of the (northern) species are suffering because the ocean becomes too hot for them."
Athabasca glacier and Mount Andromeda in Jasper National Park  Alberta  Canada. The glacier has retr...
Athabasca glacier and Mount Andromeda in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. The glacier has retreated 1,500 meters in the last century.
Carlos Delgado
Global impacts of climate change
Interestingly, climate change will have an impact on U.S.-Canada relationships, complicating them says Rob Huebert from the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. As he points out, the American southwest is already in dire straits, having just about used up all its water resources. Huebert says that " they're automatically looking northward."
But the impact of climate change won't be felt just in North America, though. Climate will be the driver behind people fleeing African countries as their livelihoods dry up because of severe droughts, and Huebert says those people will be knocking on Canada's doors.
South Africa s farming sector is struggling to adapt to the nation s worst drought in 20 years.
South Africa's farming sector is struggling to adapt to the nation's worst drought in 20 years.
CCTV Africa
"What I'm seeing is an acceleration in the collapse of some of these societies and it seems to be coming from the expansion of the desert," Huebert said. "(Climate change) definitely seems to be an intervening variable that is exacerbating the situation.
The bottom line is confusing. Flato says climate change forecasts only predict uncertainty, and that is more the truth than most scientists will say. "We don't know where that ultimate change will be," he said.