With overall warming trends across Canada, is 'extreme weather' the new normal?
Steam and smoke rise from a coal-burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Dec. 16, 2009. (AP / Martin Meissner)
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 22, 2013 6:40AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 22, 2013 7:35AM EST
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Environment Canada says warming trends across the country will mean more severe blasts of rain, wind, snow and heat from Mother Nature.
Bob Robichaud, a warning preparedness meteorologist, says 2012 was the 16th year in a row that saw higher than normal temperatures across Canada.
Over the last 10 years, just four of 40 seasons were cooler than normal.
"So that certainly is a trend there," Robichaud said from Halifax where he also works with the Canadian Hurricane Centre.
"The climate change experts are saying that we're going to get heavier rainfall events and more frequent non-tropical type storms. So in that respect, we have to be ready for it."
Over the last year, Canada saw intense heat waves, extreme flooding in B.C. and an especially active hurricane season that culminated in Superstorm Sandy. The massive Atlantic hurricane collided with another weather system, churned a path of destruction through seaside New Jersey and left wreckage and lost business costs estimated at more than US$65 billion.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in his second inaugural speech Monday, did not mince words on the need for environmental action.
"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," he said. "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms."
Environmental campaigners will be watching to see if Obama backs up those strong words with strong measures, and the extent to which Prime Minister Stephen Harper may respond. The federal Conservative government has been accused of using inaction on climate change south of the border as an excuse for not doing more to cut greenhouse gases in Canada.
In St. John's, N.L., a powerful blizzard on Jan. 11 dumped about 52 centimetres of snow and packed wind gusts of more than 100 kilometres an hour. Mayor Dennis O'Keefe can't recall a storm like it in his entire life, all 68 years of it spent in St. John's.
"I mean, my house shook," he said in an interview. "That wind howled, and for the very first time I wondered whether or not I was going to have damage to my house which, thank God, I didn't.
"I could actually see things vibrate on the inside of the house."
O'Keefe says the city, like others across Canada, will have to assess the extent to which more wild weather could be costly.
"No doubt about it, there is damage when we have these extremes, when you get into hurricane winds. The cost is potentially, depending on what happens in the next 10 to 15 years, into the hundreds of millions of dollars when it comes to infrastructure, flooding costs, damage to public buildings, damage to private homes and so on.
"We're going to have to look at all of these issues in terms of how we build for the future."
The recent blizzard in St. John's followed widespread wind damage caused in September by post-tropical storm Leslie and the havoc caused by hurricane Igor on Sept. 21, 2010.
Igor swept across eastern Newfoundland, dumping more than 200 millimetres of rain in some regions as swollen rivers and creeks blasted through roads and wiped out bridges. The storm caused about $125 million in damages, temporarily cutting off 90 communities as 22 of them declared states of emergency.