Exchange Of Viewpoints On Canadian Extreme Weather

I was alerted to two op-eds in the Star Phoenix by Madhav Khandekar. I reproduce them below with highlights added. I agree with Madhav’s perspective. [see also ‘Extreme weather is an integral part of the Earth’s climate’ at WUWT].

Extreme weather becoming norm by Lindsay Olson of the Star Phoenix on June 28 2012

Olson is the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s vice-president for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Environment Canada’s summary of 2011 reads like an annus horribilus for extreme weather.

Prairie flooding featured the highest water levels and flows in modern history across parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Slave Lake, Alta., burned down. In the East, Richelieu flooded in Quebec’s longest lived disaster. Fish swam where grain should grow. Nineteen tropical storms formed in the Atlantic Basin, almost twice the average.

Unusual weather? Or are we seeing a continuing trend and a long-term norm of severe weather in Canada?

Gordon McBean, a leading Canadian climatologist, has completed a key report following current peer-reviewed research, and examines Canada’s historical weather trends and projects them to 2050. He concluded that Canada has entered an era of extreme weather, with shorter and wetter winters, hotter summers and longer spring and fall seasons.

Commissioned by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the paper shows a clear connection to my industry’s historical experience with increasing severe weather damages.

It also conveys a strong message: Canadians need to adapt to severe weather realities that have been hitting them, are hitting them, and will be hitting them, hard.

The reason IBC commissioned the research is practical.

We want to provide clear information to support adaptation of public and private infrastructure (municipalities, private homes).

And we want to help home and business insurers anticipate factors that are likely to affect property insurance costs in the years ahead. Keeping those costs down isn’t just an insurance industry issue.

It matters to everyone who buys insurance.

Insured losses from weather related catastrophes during the past three years have been near or above $1 billion.

We know well the stories behind the numbers – communities and individual Canadians have been hit hard, lives lost, homes destroyed, livelihoods threatened, bridges collapsed, roads ruined.

Our communities urgently need to make increased natural disaster resilience a priority.

McBean’s work analyzed trends for Canada as a whole and its regions. Here are some projections:

Atlantic Canada: An increase in hurricane and storm activity in the region is likely, with resulting storm surges. Freezing rain events will increase by 50 per cent in Newfoundland. Nova Scotia could see increases of about 20 per cent.

Quebec: More hot days. Trends point to three times as many days over 30 degrees C for Quebec City as there were during the period 1961-90. Montreal is expected to see a 60 per cent increase in hot days by 2050.

More heavy precipitation, and more freezing rain events longer than six hours are probable. Forest fire frequency increases.

Ontario: Summertime warming is likely to rise by two to three degrees. Frost-free days in winter are expected to double by 2050. The research projects more heavy precipitation. As well, more freezing rain, flash flooding and wildfires are projected, with the highest increases in northwestern Ontario.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan: Temperature increases are likely to be greatest in winter and spring in the south, while drought and water scarcity are likely to be a growing climate risk through the prairies. More extreme precipitation events and flash flooding are expected.

Alberta: The province will be hit hard by drought and water scarcity due to reduced summer precipitation, falling lake levels, retreating glacier, decreasing soil-water content and more dry years. More hail, storms and wildfires are likely. Lightning flash density could increase by 20 per cent, with consequences for wildfires. More heavy rainfall events that can cause flash flooding are projected.

British Columbia: While the weather in B.C. will be variable, overall projections show warmer and wetter weather.

The mountain snowpack is expected to decline. Wildfires could increase significantly in forests.

The North: The likelihood of the temperature in Iqaluit exceeding 25C by 2050 could be five times greater than during the ’80s. Overall, the temperature is likely to increase by two to four degrees. The fire season in the Yukon and Northwest Territories will likely extend by 10 days, and sea levels could be 15-25 centimetres higher.

Unusual weather is becoming the norm in Canada.

This is clear in both the regional and national trends. We now need, as a country, to focus on adaptation to the new climate reality of more severe weather.

I have a lot of respect for Gordon McBean, and agree with him on his views on weather forecasting as we wrote in thr Report Of The 2004-2009 Research Review Of The Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut which I posted on in March 2012 (see). Gordon and I were members of that Committee.

In our KNMI  report, which Gordon signed off on, we concluded that

The global climate model projections…… only a subset of possible climate conditions in the coming decades…

Thus, in the Canadian report that Gordon completed, he is ignoring a finding on the limits of the multi-decadal climate predictions that he agreed with in the KNMI report. Both of his viewpoints cannot be correct!

I summarized the lack of regional predictive skill in the post

Kevin Trenberth Was Correct – “We Do Not Have Reliable Or Regional Predictions Of Climate”

I agree with what Madhav writes below in his July 6 2012 response in the Star Phoenix;

Extreme caution best in assessing future weather by Madhav Khandekar

Khandekar is a retired Environment Canada scientist with more than 50 years of experience in weather and climate science, and an expert reviewer of the IPCC 2007 Climate Change Assessment.

In the viewpoint article Extreme weather becoming norm (SP, June 28) Lidsay Olson, vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, provides a glimpse of weather extremes for various regions of Canada and warns Canadian to be prepared to live with such extremes over the next several decades.

Olson refers to the study on future weather extremes done by Gordon McBean, former assistant deputy minister of Environment Canada. When did Canada witness a climate free of extreme weather, is what Olson fails to explain to Canadians.

Extreme weather is an integral part of the Earth’s climate. Throughout the recorded history of the Earth’s climate, extreme weather events have always occurred somewhere, and are caused by large-scale atmosphere ocean flow patterns and their complex interaction with local/regional weather and climate features.

An examination of the 20th century climate of North America reveals that the decades of 1920s and 1930s, known as the Dust Bowl years, witnessed perhaps the most extreme climate over the Great American Plains and elsewhere. There were recurring droughts and heat waves on the Canadian/American Prairies.

The prairies also witnessed some extreme cold winters during the 1910s and 1920s – for example in 1907 and 1920.

We meteorologists still do not fully understand why the climate of North America was so anomalous during the 1920s and 1930s.

During the 1950s and 1960s most of Canada witnessed extreme cold winters, especially on the prairies where record breaking low temperatures (Edmonton at minus 45C and below in the 1960s) were registered. In Ontario and Quebec, cold and snowy winters was a norm during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Parts of the Canadian Atlantic witnessed long winters with lots of snow. Spring ice jam on the St. John’s River was a common occurrence during the 1960s and 1970s.

The recent decades of the 1980s and 1990s have witnessed a warmer climate across most of North America and worldwide.

Several hot spells of varying durations (from few days to a week or more) have been recorded in North America, Europe and elsewhere. The year 1998 has been adjudged the “hottest year” in a 150-year long temperature record, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN Body of climate scientists and environmentalists.

Will the Earth’s climate become significantly warmer in future? There is no definite answer so far. The best value for climate sensitivity (increase in the Earth’s mean temperature in future for a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration) is now estimated to be just about 1C or so.

Would such a modest increase in future lead to increased severe extreme weather events, as Olson claims?

Would future extreme weather be any different from what Canadians have witnessed in the past?

Extreme weather will always be with us, no matter what. The best way to cope with future extreme weather is to develop an “early warning system” with improved long-lead weather/climate forecasting capabilities. Such an early warning system can help minimize adverse impacts from future extreme weather events.

Canadians from coast-to-coast should be able to live and cope with future weather extremes with adequate precaution and need not be psyched into accepting increased insurance in future, as Olson’s article seems to suggest.

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