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Water, water everywhere... question is why

Blame runs from slow-moving systems to climate change

A large swath across Saskatchewan and a portion of western Manitoba have seen rainfall amounts more than 200 per cent above normal over the past 30 days.

On the government precipitation maps, it looks like a large blue puddle slightly bigger than Lake Winnipeg with the hardest-hit areas seeing more than 220 millimetres of rain with small pockets in Saskatchewan getting more than 300 mm.

It's the runoff from that rainfall over the past month that crests at the Portage Reservoir at about noon today. The runoff from the rainfall from the Canada Day downpours arrives in a second crest next week.

Wetter weather and summer flooding is more a sign of life on this part of the Prairies than anything else, Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips said. "Sometimes you just get that," Phillips said Tuesday. "It's not as if it's climate change or anything like that."

He said bad-weather systems are hanging around longer and dumping more rain.

"What we're seeing is that these are hanging out," he said. "They seem to be a little bigger and seem slower so there's more time to spread its stuff."

Others have blamed uncontrolled drainage for our flood woes. Increased drainage compounds the fact we live on a natural flood plain left behind by Lake Agassiz. Phillips said some meteorologists have pointed to a more "loopy" jet stream. With warmer temperatures up north, the jet stream wanders more than it used to, meaning weather systems that used to track across the country in three or four days now sometimes take more than a week.

"It's not as if we're seeing 'new' weather," he said. "It's not as if this is something we haven't seen before. What seems to be different is almost the statistics of the weather; the duration of it, the aerial hugeness of it and the intensity. When you get all three together, then this is why it seems to be different than we're used to."

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton, responsible for emergency preparedness, said he believes climate change is behind more frequent rainstorms and summer flooding in the two provinces. Ashton said historically, the bigger problem has been drought. "It does provide challenges in the immediate sense," Ashton said, adding the odds of a 2011 flood -- once called a one-in-300-year flood -- followed by similar flooding this summer are "astronomical."

"So if anybody thinks this is just chance, I think there is everything indication this has to do with fact that our climate is changing, particularly here on the Prairies. We're going to have to prepare for this even more in the future."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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