Wild weather the new norm

En­vi­ron­ment Canada cli­ma­tol­o­gist says to ex­pect the un­ex­pected

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - BY ROSIE MULLALEY

ST. JOHN’S, NL – Hur­ri­cane­force winds, se­vere snow­storms, ex­cep­tion­ally high seas, floods and jam-packed sea ice.

In the last few years, it seems this prov­ince has been hit with some of the most ex­treme and un­usual weather sys­tems it has ever had.

And it’s had big im­pacts on trav­ellers — just ask Ma­rine At­lantic.

“Last week, we lost four days of sail­ings. I’ve never seen that be­fore,” Ma­rine At­lantic com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor Dar­rell Mercer told the Telegram.

He’s also never seen the type of winds.

In the last month, ferry cross­ings be­tween Port aux Basques and North Syd­ney, N.S., have been hugely dis­rupted with un­usu­ally fre­quent weather sys­tems that forced Ma­rine At­lantic to can­cel runs sev­eral times dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days and new year.

On Jan. 7, gusts of up to 100 knots (185 kms/h) blew through the gulf.

“We’ve seen high wind gusts be­fore, but when you get that three-digit num­ber, that’s very high and very un­usual to see un­less there’s a hur­ri­cane,” Mercer said. “We usu­ally don’t see those type of sys­tems in the win­ter­time, and here we are in Jan­uary and we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what we’ve been call­ing a weather bomb.”

Deal­ing with se­vere weather is noth­ing new for the prov­ince, but Mercer said these past few years have been dif­fer­ent and par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing.

“The weather sys­tems we’re see­ing are ab­nor­mal. … Ev­ery year is dif­fer­ent, but if we look at this year, in par­tic­u­lar, what we’re see­ing is sus­tained sys­tems that are stick­ing around for longer pe­ri­ods of time,” he said.

“These past three weeks, we’ve seen three sig­nif­i­cant, se­vere weather sys­tems move through. That type of a sys­tem, usu­ally we’d only ex­pect to see one of those a year. We’ve had three in three weeks. It kind of puts in per­spec­tive what we’ve been deal­ing with.”

Mercer ex­pects to see more of these un­usual weather pat­terns in the fu­ture.

Tough ques­tion

But where is this wild weather com­ing from and can we ex­pect more of it?

It’s a tough ques­tion to an­swer, En­vi­ron­ment Canada se­nior cli­ma­tol­o­gist David Phillips said.

There’s no doubt peo­ple are notic­ing more fre­quent in­tense weather sys­tems than in the past, he said, but sci­en­tists have yet to prove that’s the case.

“Sci­en­tists are very cau­tious about mak­ing a state­ment. They have to be 95 per cent con­fi­dent be­fore they say some­thing that is so ob­vi­ous to the gen­eral pub­lic,” Phillips said.

“Our weather is dif­fer­ent now. Yeah, cli­ma­tol­o­gists would say that, but they need the rigour of (sci­en­tific) ex­per­i­ments and set­ups to be able to prove that.”

There’s no deny­ing the world is warmer due to cli­mate change, he said.

Over the last 70 years, Phillips said, tem­per­a­tures in New­found­land and Labrador have in­creased 1.2 de­grees in sum­mer, 1.2 de­grees in the fall and 0.7 de­grees in win­ter.

“It may not seem like a lot, but it doesn’t take a lot of global warm­ing to cre­ate im­pacts and fall­outs from a warmer world,” said Phillips, adding that this prov­ince’s dis­rup­tive weather usu­ally comes from the south.

He said New­found­land has al­ways been “the lab­o­ra­tory of ex­treme weather pat­terns,” be­ing on the tail end of many sys­tems in North Amer­ica. But what has changed, he said, is the vari­abil­ity — sys­tems are at­tack­ing from dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

“It’s not just all from the south­west. You can be clob­bered from al­most any di­rec­tion,” he said. “There are those wild swings, which likely is part of cli­mate change.

“And cli­mate change doesn’t cre­ate weather. It en­er­gizes it. It’s like steroids for storms, in a way. It makes storms stronger than it would’ve been. It’s got more po­ten­tial to give you a nasty blow. That’s what sci­en­tists are fo­cus­ing on.”

The re­cent “weather bomb” ex­pe­ri­enced by the prov­ince was a good in­di­ca­tion of that, he said.

“In New­found­land, it was like a litany of weather mis­ery. There were warn­ings out for snow squalls, storm surges, ex­treme cold, win­ter storms, wind, rain, snow, Wreck­house wind, blow­ing snow and drift­ing snow. I mean, you would think, I’m not go­ing out­side. I’m go­ing to hide un­der the bed. Where we used to have win­ter warn­ings, now, it’s ev­ery­thing but the kitchen sink.” Many fac­tors

Phillips said there are many other fac­tors that can make it seem like the prov­ince’s weather is wors­en­ing.

First of all, there are more ways of be­ing in­formed about the weather.

More me­dia out­lets are re­port­ing it, for ex­am­ple, he said.

“The world is smaller. There are no far-off places any­more, whether it’s Bangladesh or Buchans,” Phillips said. “Cen­turies ago, peo­ple didn’t even hear about storms (around the world). Now, CNN would be there be­fore it hits, and An­der­son Cooper would be stand­ing in the wa­ter.

“Se­vere weather (for the me­dia) is storm porn. We like to re­port it be­cause it causes a lot of buzz.

“Peo­ple be­gin to think we’re go­ing to hell in a hand bas­ket, that the world is re­ally clos­ing in on us. Na­ture is pun­ish­ing us.”

There are also more weather sta­tions across the world.

“The oceans can’t burp with­out us know­ing about it now,” Phillips said.

See SO­CI­ETY, page 6

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MA­RINE AT­LANTIC

Ma­rine At­lantic’s ferry Blue Put­tees, pic­tured re­cently docked in Port aux Basques, has had sev­eral can­celled cross­ings on the gulf over the last three weeks due to ex­treme weather.

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