PEI·CLIMATE CHANGE NOW

How daily work is changing on P.E.I. as wind and temperature patterns shift

If you want to learn how climate change has already begun to affect daily life on P.E.I., talk to someone who works outside.

'You spend a little more time battening down the hatches, preparing for the wind event'

Assessing whether a tree is safe or whether it should come down has changed. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Look out your window. Is there a tree there that provides a shady spot in your yard in the summer, a splash of colour in the fall? And have you begun to wonder in recent years if that tree is perhaps growing a bit too large for your property?

It's a question that Kurt Laird, owner of Laird Tree Care, hears a lot.

"What a typical customer would ask: Is this tree safe? Or is it going to fall on my home or my deck or myself?" said Laird.

Laird has been in business for 15 years, and he said his answer to that question has changed recently.

In recent decades there have been more hot days, fewer cold days, and more windy days on P.E.I. It is a trend that has accelerated in the last few years.

For Laird, the main concern is wind, and one of the key issues is when those windy days are happening. Typically, he said, the strongest winds of the year have blown in the winter, with gusts of 90 to 100 km/h not unusual.

"Now we're getting those in the fall," he said — and that makes a big difference.

It's not just more windy days, says Kurt Laird, it's when the windy days are happening. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

"In the fall, there'll be leaves on the trees and the root system won't be frozen in the ground, so they'll catch more sail because of the leaves on them and also their root systems will be easier to pull out of the ground if they're not frozen."

That means Laird has had to change how he evaluates trees. For a tree he might have said was fine a decade ago, he would now determine something needs to be done. Perhaps he'll thin the branches so that it catches less wind, or maybe remove the tree altogether.

"Our normal has changed… in how I evaluate trees for a wind failure."

'Battening down the hatches'

On another weather front, more hot days are an issue for anyone who works outside.

Environment Canada issued more than half a dozen heat warnings this summer. Some of them went on for days, and two came in June, usually a more temperate month.

The federal agency advises that people take extra care when working outside during a heat warning. That includes regular breaks out of the sun, and ensuring you stay hydrated by drinking water even before you feel thirsty.

Among the people most exposed working outside in the heat? Roofers.

"On the roof, it's never in the shade," said Boyd Corcoran, general manager of Ashe Roofing.

On some days it is just too hot for roofing. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"It takes its toll on the staff. We tend to start a little earlier, six o'clock in the morning. Some days we just have to shut down if it gets too warm."

That's a concern, he said, because in the construction industry you never really catch up.

And builders have not only the heat to deal with, but also the wind.

When the breeze is high, large sheets of wood can catch the wind. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Sam Sanderson, general manager of the Construction Association of P.E.I., says in recent years Island builders have had to pay more attention to windy days.

"Plywood and things like that can catch so much wind," said Sanderson.

"You get a person trying to carry that across a yard or a site or trying to hold it on the roof — it can have a huge impact."

That means taking extra precautions while working, and also expending a little more effort before leaving the job site at the end of the day.

"You spend a little more time, as the old saying goes, battening down the hatches, preparing for the wind events," said Sanderson.

And as in any industry, any extra time and effort is likely to translate into higher costs.

Confederation Bridge restrictions

When the wind starts to blow, restrictions on Confederation Bridge can follow.

For safety reasons, high-sided vehicles such as transport trucks are kept off the bridge when the wind on the Northumberland Strait is stronger than 70 km/h.

Officials at Confederation Bridge say they have not noticed any increase so far in the amount of time that traffic is restricted on the bridge. However, Adam Fenech at the UPEI Climate Lab says if the trend of more windy days at Charlottetown Airport continues, it is likely going to be happening on the Northumberland Strait as well.

Windy days can disrupt traffic on Confederation Bridge. (CBC)

Truckers have a number of strategies for dealing with restrictions on the bridge that links P.E.I. to the mainland. They can try to plan their trips to arrive before or after storms, they can turn around and try to get another job done while the wind dies down, or they can just wait it out.

The waiting might be spent at home, it might be with friends if they have some living nearby, or it might just be queued up at Confederation Bridge, where there are facilities (at least on the New Brunswick side) for waiting truckers.

Waiting is the last choice, because it comes with costs.

"If the bridge is closed and I cannot go in or out — truckers, you know, they get paid for the miles they do," said Alexander Lifman, a trucker with Seafood Express.

Restrictions at Confederation Bridge can cost Alexander Lifman, because if his truck isn't moving he's not getting paid. (Submitted by Alexander Lifman)

"The moment I'm sitting doing nothing, I'm not getting paid for it."

Bridge restrictions require patience from drivers, said Suzanne Gray, recruiting and marketing coordinator for Seafood Express — especially for those who get stuck on the New Brunswick side, who are keen to get home and see their families on P.E.I.

And it's complicated for dispatchers. Having a lot of trucks on the road is like an elaborate dance, with trucks moving in concert, meeting appointment times in locations all across the continent. When restrictions are imposed on the Confederation Bridge, it's as if the music stops on one part of the dance floor.

It really just messes up our logistics schedule and just puts a delay in everything.- Suzanne Gray of Seafood Express

"It really just messes up our logistics schedule and just puts a delay in everything," said Gray.

"It does add a lot of extra work."

As with the drivers, delays can cost Seafood Express money, as over the course of the year appointments are missed and companies try to make them up.

It's a little bit of sand in the gears of the economy, which can be difficult to see unless you're looking closely. What can be more obvious is certain empty shelves in the stores, if you get the wind blowing for more than 24 hours.

Climate change now on P.E.I.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at kevin.yarr@cbc.ca.

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