Earlier this summer, two Canadians walked into a party in rural Germany.
“Canadians?” joked the host. “I thought you would smell more like smoke.”
It’s been that kind of season. Floods, droughts, warm waters that bathe three coasts, but above all smoke from forest fires from sea to sea and abroad. Yes, this is climate change, scientists say, and they expect more weather oddities to come.
“It’s been a wild ride,” said Danny Blair, co-director of the Prairie Climate Center at the University of Winnipeg. “It’s been a season and a year of extremes.”
Drought is an example. Canada is a big place and it’s always dry somewhere, but not like this.
Agriculture Canada’s June 30 drought map shows most of the country was abnormally dry. Large tracts of the prairies were under at least moderate drought, reaching its extreme in southern Alberta.
In British Columbia, once the “wet coast”, 28 of the 34 river basins were in the two highest levels of drought in the province. Ranchers were selling cattle that couldn’t produce enough hay to feed, and low flows threatened salmon runs.
And it’s been hot. Although the east was generally normal, the west was not.
From May to July, Kelowna, BC experienced 36 days of 30+ C weather. The normal count is 16 C. Norman Wells, not far from the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories, set a new record of 38 C July 8th .
Environment Canada Senior Climatologist Dave Phillips added up the number of warm temperature records set this summer against the number of cold records.
“If the climate was balanced, you would have as many cold records as warm records,” he said.
No. There were 372 new hot temperature marks and 55 cold ones.
fires and floods
The heat is also not restricted to the earth. Phillips said the waters off all three Canadian coasts have never been warmer.
Hudson Bay is up to 3C warmer. The Pacific coast is between 2 C and 4 C warmer. Both the Atlantic and Arctic coasts are 5C above average.
Then there was the flooding: “So many floods,” Phillips said.
On July 21, Halifax received three months of rain in 24 hours. At least three people died in the floods, up to 600 had to evacuate their homes and power outages affected 80,000. Roads were washed out and at least seven bridges were left in need of major repairs or replacement.
There were also fires that spread smoke across the continent and into Europe, where “Canadian wildfires” made headlines in the New York Times and Germany’s nightly news.
With more than 13 million acres blackened, it has been the worst wildfire season in North American history. All 13 provinces and territories have been affected, often at the same time.
Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes, hundreds of houses were destroyed, and four firefighters were killed.
Over the years, cities like Calgary and Edmonton have gotten used to “smoke days.”
This year, that unhappy club grew to include Ottawa (171 smoke hours), Montreal (100 smoke hours), and Toronto, which, as of June 30, had the second-worst air quality in the world.
Wikipedia already has an entry for “2023 Canadian Wildfires.” Fire season is barely half over.
It’s not just a year of particularly wild natural variability, Blair said.
“Canada experiences a remarkable amount of variability from year to year,” he said. “It’s not unusual for us to have dry or hot weather.
“But the frequency and severity of it and its coincidence with huge weather extremes in the US and around the world suggests to a lot of people that something has changed.”
‘Way out of line with natural variability’
World Weather Attribution, a UK-based group that estimates the contribution of climate change to individual weather events, has already said that the US and European heatwaves this summer would have been “virtually impossible” without it. His analysis of the Canadian wildfires is expected later this fall.
“I have no doubt that the conclusion will be that these events are well outside the line of natural variability,” Blair said.
“This is screaming climate change. It’s precisely what we’ve been talking about for years.”
Get used to it, at least for the next few months.
“Our models for August do not show areas of Canada that are colder than normal,” Phillips said.
If you want cooler, you will have to go to the east coast of Baffin Island. Everywhere else is showing at least normal heat, which is expected to hold.
It will last well into September, for better or worse, Phillips said.
“What you see is what you’re going to keep getting.”