Climate change will turn up the heat in Waterloo Region

Climate change would mean 30 or more days over 30 C in the summer, more frequent, intense rainfall and wintertime freezing rain for Waterloo Region, according to a new report commissioned by the region's three largest cities.

Hotter summers, warmer winters and more intense rainfall predicted in new climate change report

Wind is expected to become 10 to 20 per cent stronger by the end of the century, according to the report, creating the potential for more frequent damage to urban infrastructure unless city planners find ways to adapt.

Climate change would triple the number of days over 30 degrees in the summer, bring more frequent and intense rainfall and create milder winters with more frequent freezing rain in Waterloo Region, according to a new report commissioned by the regional government and its three largest cities. 

The problem of climate change is already being blamed by some for intensifying weather patterns in Waterloo Region that have brought flash floods, freezing rain and drought in the last few years. 

We can no longer use history as a benchmark for what's likely to happen tomorrow.- Jason Thistlethwaite, co-author of  Localized Climate Projections for Waterloo Region

"What we wanted to take a look at is how climate change models project the differences in weather that we're likely to see in the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s," Jason Thistlethwaite, a University of Waterloo researcher who studies the economic risks of extreme weather and one of the report's co-authors told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Monday. 

The report, Localized Climate Projections for Waterloo Region, is an attempt to paint a picture of what Waterloo Region would look like in a warmer world by using data from 20 different climate change studies in order to predict how intensifying global weather patterns would affect local communities so that municipalities can adapt.

A warmer planet will mean more frequent and intense rainfall in Waterloo Region and more flash flooding if cities don't adapt, according to a new report that predicts future weather patterns based on 20 different climate studies. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"There's a big business case for them to be aware of these things," he said. "I think municipalities are strongly motivated to take some of the steps so we can adapt to some of these big impacts that we're likely to see in this region."

Hotter summers, more intense rainfall

Among the biggest changes that would potentially affect Waterloo Region is the warming planet itself, according to Thistlethwaite, who says summer heat would intensify over the next 35 to 65 years. 

"Right now we see about 10 days where you get 30 degree weather during the summer," he said. "We expect that to triple by about the 2050s." 

Jason Thistlethwaite studies the economic risks of climate change at the University of Waterloo and is the co-author a report that forecasts hotter summers, milder winters and more intense precipitation in Waterloo region over the next 65 years. (Jason Thistlethwaite/Twitter)

Waterloo Region would also become wetter, according to the report, with "large magnitude rainfall events expected to occur more frequently than in the expected historical record."

Thistlethwaite said a warming climate would also mean milder winters with more likelihood of freezing rain. 

"So you are going to see warmer winters, that is the trend," he said. "We've actually identified as a about a 40 per cent increase in freezing rain is likely by about the 2050s."

Thistlethwaite noted that with the increased frequency of freezing rain, cities will need to find better strategies to deal with the damage caused by ice storms, noting widespread damage to homes, power lines and urban canopies, not only make them costly, but dangerous to deal with. 

The report predicts that freezing rain, which felled this tree in Kitchener during an ice storm in 2014, will become 40 per cent more frequent by the year 2050. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

A change in thinking

"We can no longer use history as a benchmark for what's likely to happen tomorrow," Thistlethwaite said. "We encourage [city planners and politicians] to take this information and then start adaptation planning."

Thistlethwaite hopes the report can be used as a guide, in order to shore up city infrastructure, which is not only a community's first line of defence against climate change, but also, in the case of roads and storm drains, has the greatest susceptibility to extreme weather.

"So it's about looking at your responsibilities as a municipalities to see where we need to adapt," he said. "If we are going to see more extreme heat over the summer, we need to identify where the vulnerable people are and provide cooling centres to manage that type of impact."

Thistlethwaite said it is up to Waterloo Region and its biggest cities to identify their biggest priorities in order to reduce the potential threat of climate change on the community.