Nfld. & Labrador

It's not your imagination. N.L.'s weather is getting weirder

Storms and seasons in Newfoundland and Labrador aren't the same as when you were a kid, one climatologist says.

You might have noticed spring is nowhere to be seen, but there's good news on the summer front

Seasons might be flailing around more than they used to, but will it mean ... warmer weather? (Photo courtesy Margaret Mary Martin)

Canadian climatologist David Phillips is trying to show with numbers what we've suspected all along: the storms and seasons our grandparents knew are gone, replaced by more erratic patterns as a result of climate change in recent decades.

Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, is in St. John's for a talk Thursday night on just that subject.

"What I contend is, because our weather has changed more dramatically in recent years ... that we're already seeing the effects of climate change. We're not having to wait for it. We're seeing this in our own backyards," he told CBC's On the Go.

"It's not something in Bangaladesh or Botswana, it's in Bonavista and Buchans ... nobody can escape it."

 A few decades ago, Phillips says, the climate across North America "was probably one of the more stable and static periods of climate in the world," he said, noting temperatures in Atlantic Canada were actually dropping during the baby boomer era.

But in the lifetimes of today's Generation Z, the vast majority of years have been hotter than average. Where "you could depend on the climate and the weather ... now it just seems like wild cards," he said.

"It's almost like weather whiplash."

The whole idea of a region's climate is "a little abstract sometimes," Phillips admits, pointing out that we often blur the distinction between weather and climate — but it's only because the two are so closely related.

"If I was defining climate it would be the statistics of weather: every day you've got storms, temperature, winds, humidity,"  Phillips explained.

"If you average all that together it gives you the climate of the area."

And as the climate changes, he said, "the weather will be affected. It will be stormier storms, it could be heavier rainfalls. It could be shorter winters, longer summers, more beer-drinking weather."

Climatologist David Philips explains what we've suspected all along: the weather is getting wilder. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Okay, but where's spring?

All that means that a century ago, Newfoundland and Labrador could rely on fairly predictable seasonal patterns.

Now, it could be the hottest season on record one year, and frigid the next.

This year, spring, in particular, hasn't yet appeared. The bad news is, it probably won't at all, Phillips said.

Between floods in eastern Canada and snow in the west, Phillips said, "people are just fed up."

Remember these? No? We don't blame you. (Ian Black/CBC)

Northeasterly winds are carrying in cold air off the North Atlantic, he explained, and we haven't been in the path of any warm fronts from the southern United States.

"We're going to have to be more patient. My sense is that spring is going to last days, not months," he said.

But when summer does hit, Phillips said models are showing it'll be hotter than usual across the province from mid-June through August.

"There is some light at the end of the tunnel," he chuckled. "Don't think summer is cancelled."

Preparing for the extreme

The big issue is how communities prepare for the wilder weather, he adds.

"What we need to do is to build our cities or neighbourhoods to withstand the kind of extremes of weather that we're going to see in the future," Phillips said, like preparing for floods or increases in pests from warmer winters.

"It's not as if what we're going to see here in Newfoundland are sandstorms or typhoons ... It's just the same old climate, but it's going to have different frequency statistics, more extremes. Things that would be something you'd expect once in a lifetime, it might happen every two or three years."

And while we can still predict the daily weather, he said, figuring out what'll happen from one year to the next is getting harder. 

"Nature has always changed the climate, but the new agent of change is people," Phillips said.

"Hopefully we can begin to do something about it."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On the Go and Here and Now


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