If you scoffed when some doddering old-timer told you that today’s Manitobans don’t experience the same cold winters that they had, you owe them an apology — they were right.
Over the last 60 years, western Manitoba — indeed all of the southern portion of the province — has experienced a significant increase in temperature.
In those six decades, the Prairies have become 4 C warmer, according to Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, David Phillips. In what Phillips called a “remarkable year,” the past 12 months have been the warmest on record for Winnipeg and Brandon residents.
This week, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that from Aug. 1, 2011 to July 31, 2012, Winnipeg had an average temperatures of 6 C, shattering the record of 5.6 C that stood since 1877.
Over that same time period, Brandon recorded an average temperature of 5.2 C, while the normal temperatures is only 2 C over any 12-month period.
The previous record was set in 2005-06 when Brandon experienced an average of 4.5 C.
“You beat the record by more than half a degree, which in my business is like a sea change,” Phillips said. “If we break records by a tenth of a degree it’s huge. We usually calculate things by the hundredths. Nothing was even close to what we saw this year.”
Weather patterns over the past year have shown an increase in jet streams from the south and far less frigid air from the north. While summer temperatures have been hot this year, Phillips says that’s less remarkable than our winter temperatures. The Arctic air, it seems, is missing in action.
But before all you cold-weather-haters out there start breaking out the bubbly, be careful what you wish for.
As Phillips said, while these temperature records may not be the climate change smoking gun, they simply add more ammunition to the fact that our weather patterns are changing.
The variability of the seasons have made it nearly impossible to predict the weather with any certainty. Remember last fall, when Environment Canada predicted a colder than average winter with higher than average precipitation in Westman? Didn’t happen.
“We are the second-coldest country in the world and the snowiest country in the world, but what we’ve really seen is a total lack of winter everywhere,” Phillips said last January, during what should have been the coldest time of the year.
As he told the Sun yesterday, the weather has taken wild swings from one side to the other. While that still equals a generally normal average, those swings translate into excessively wet springs as we have experienced over the last few years, to extreme drought, much like the one that has gripped the United States this summer.
The Financial Times suggests that what has been called the worst drought in the U.S. in at least half a century has destroyed one-sixth of the country’s expected corn crop, which in turn threatens a surge in global food price inflation.
“The failure of the U.S. corn crop will hit the world’s food manufacturers, including Nestlé, Kraft, and Tyson, who have already warned that they will pass on higher prices to consumers,” the paper wrote.
There have also been more wild storms documented in the United States — and to a limited extent, Canada — with tornadoes and hurricanes causing tremendous damage to communities and unprecedented loss of life in our modern times.
If these temperatures are truly indicative of climate change, we are left to wonder just how far the pendulum will swing.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 11, 2012