Categories: Opinion

Column: Summer of 2015 remains one for the record books

El Nino is back, possibly with a vengeance. The complex warm water current has been growing since early this year and it is expected to increase in the fall and winter months. That in itself is putting climatologists on guard for some pretty wild weather forecasting.

In mid-July, the North Pacific sea surface temperature difference from normal was around 1.5 degrees C putting it on a path to becoming a strong El Nino event expected to last the rest of the year and perhaps into early 2016. But if the surface temperature goes to 2 degrees C above normal, we could be facing a rare super El Nino.

But the elephant in the room – or perhaps the whale in the ocean – is the strange warm water “blob” persisting in the North Pacific. All bets are off as to how these two phenomena may interact.

The blob showed up in the fall of 2013 and is an unusually warm mass of water stretching from Alaska to Mexico and half way across the Pacific.  It has influenced global weather patterns and is  causing havoc to marine ecosystems.

El Nino events often bring warmer, drier winters to the Pacific Northwest with less mountain snowpack and fewer rain events. Given how dry we’ve been this year the last thing we need is a drier than normal wet season in the fall. Sounds like the Darth Vader of weather forecasting.

El Ninos can be bad news for farmers and fishers. According to an economics study done by Texas A&M University, the last big El Nino of 1997-1998 cost about $3 billion in agricultural damage.

According to Roger Pannett, volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada, last month was the driest June in Chilliwack in over 136 years with rainfall totals a mere 8.5 mm, 89 per cent below normal. What’s with that? In fact the only month since January when precipitation was above normal was March. All other months have been well below normal.

Then there’s the heat!

“To date (30 June) in 2015, there have been a record-breaking 44 high temperature records in Chilliwack smashing the previous total of 41 recorded in 2014,” wrote Pannett in his month-end report.

Record breaking temperatures continued to be set in July and as at July 22, there have been 11 days with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius. The 30-year average for July temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius is three. July , Canada Day, was 34 degrees Celsius, 11.l degrees Celsius above normal!

The worrisome thing is that no one is sure exactly what is going on.

“With a super El Nino, add to that the blob,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada. “We’ve never seen a situation like this. We’ve seen super El Ninos but not with the blob. Is this going to exacerbate the situation or counterbalance it? With warmer water, I think it could make a humongous El Nino. That would spell disaster. You can put up with one season being hotter or drier than normal but back to back seasons will create a real issue.”

British Columbia is everything about water. It is what defines us. It is our distinctive beauty, our irrigation, our food, our rain forest, our clouds and mists and thundering tides, our hydro power, our salmon, our ski slopes, our river, lakes and streams.

“I’ve been 48 years as a climatologist and I get all excited by half a degree increase in temperature, or a half millimeter more rainfall,” said Phillips. “But you are seeing five-degree increases! You are breaking records by a landslide.”

Indeed. But I don’t want record breaking days anymore. I want sloshy, cold, in-your-face rain.

Margaret Evans

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Margaret Evans

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