While other stories, including record Arctic Sea ice melt, Superstorm Sandy, and record drought in the U.S. could have been easily my pick for climate story of the year, Winnipeg March summer type weather grabbed my attention as my climate story of the year, given the cultural magnitude of when it happened and its potential future effects on a nations psyche.
March 2012 in Winnipeg will be for known as “Summertime in March.” With the mercury reaching 20C at least four days that month, it was something that I will not forget as long as I live.
Recently, the Winnipeg Free Press had summed up the “Winter that was not” last March:
According to Environment Canada, the city set a record for its warmest 12-month period between August 2011 and July 2012.
The average temperature was 6 C, eclipsing the 1877 mark of 5.6 C.
Phillips said while the unprecedented temperatures didn’t crack the national weather agency’s Top 10 weather stories of 2012, it was an important one in its own right.
“As a regional highlight, the warmest year on record is pretty significant,” he said.
It was a year that began, almost exactly a year ago, with the winter that never was.
Before Manitobans even had a chance to haul their snow tires out of storage, spring had arrived. And it brought with it record-setting temperatures.
According to Phillips, the month of March had four days above 20 C — more than any of the Marches over the past 140 years combined.
On March 19th the mercury reached 23.6C. I can recall the Safeway at Kimberley and Henderson highway having their air conditioners on at a time of year you would least expect it. After all, it’s understandable to think March is more atoned to snow melting and preparing for putting away the snow shovels, not getting on the sunscreen and shorts.
However, if the 23.6C temperature was not bizarre enough a brief heavy thunderstorm that evening doused what was a severely dry city with some decent rain fall. A thunderstorm in March. Ok, we have had them before, but what made this one unique was it was fairly brief and heavy, dumping between 10-15 mm of rain in a short amount of time.
This storm was the second thunderstorm to hit Winnipeg in March in eight years, the last one happening in 2004.
One can make the argument this was a one-off event, and what occurred last winter will not happen again for another years. After all, we just had a normal white Christmas, and its been cold, a normal.
However, with Arctic sea ice melting at a record pace, could affect where the jet stream goes, amping up the chances of either very cold or unusual cold spells, as Climate Progress Joe Romm notes.
Quite clearly events like last March show changes through the jet stream from a changing climate can create the conditions to produce these peculiar events.
Jeff Masters, meteorologist from Weather Underground in Ann Arbour Michigan, which had similar types of heat and thunderstorms during the same period in an area which is more use to snow, says this is the new normal and “this is not the atmosphere he grew up with.”
I am sure Canadians will like having warm winter days. There is nothing wrong with having a nice day or two in the late winter or spring. I am sure there is nothing wrong to have thanks for those days once in a blue moon.
Yet what I saw last March struck a chord with me on what Canada’s futures will look like. A changing climate means more winter rain events in areas that would get snow like Winnipeg. Already this early winter season, we have had a few freezing rain events. It rained steadily December 3rd. Recent history also shows this trend to be true with a rain event in February, 2009, which wrecked havoc on travel, and caused flight delays.
Besides winter rain, ice rinks will have many problems in the New Normal surviving. Outdoor ice rinks will become more vulnerable, making it more difficult for lower-income people to enjoy Canada’s past time and hone their skills. Macleans earlier this year, also emphasized these problems in the New Normal for Canadian winters:
Even the most iconic winter image in Canada, that of children skating and playing hockey on an ice rink outside, is in peril. Researchers at McGill and Concordia universities in Montreal published a scientific paper, the ﬁrst of its kind, in early March in the journal of Environmental Research Letters, which found that between 1951 and 2005, the outdoor skating season shortened throughout most of Canada because of a lack of consecutive cold days needed to create and maintain ice rinks. They expect it to get worse as winters continue to warm.
And they’re worried: “The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of Canadian identity and culture. Wayne Gretzky learned to skate on a backyard skating rink; our results imply that such opportunities may not be available to future generations of Canadian children.”
Our changing climate will certainly impact skiing, luge and other winter events, as seen with the 2010 Winter Olympics, dubbed the Spring Olympics.
“Summer Time in March in Winnipeg” was a stark reminder of what future winters could look like. Here us hoping our weather stops getting weirder. Yet I doubt that now. Settle in folks. It’s going to be a wild ride.