Spring weather tells a story of contrasts

Finally, this past weekend looked like spring, or maybe a springboard into summer given how long it’s taken for warm weather to actually show up. Endless Pacific frontal systems during that dreary May kept the rain tap running for 21 days, just one day short of the record 22 days of rain in May 1996.

According to Roger Pannett, Environment Canada volunteer weather observer for Chilliwack, with an April and May mean temperature of 9.83C (1.42C below normal), it was the coolest period since 1955.

In fact, the 2011 precipitation in total is over the top with 1,040.7 mm rain on 107 days compared to the average of 859.1 mm on 80 days.

But if it’s been miserable here, it’s been far worse elsewhere.

“In some areas of the same province you had those wild fires like in Slave Lake while in other parts you had floods,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with the Meteorological Service of Canada.  “We saw the Assiniboine River have the highest flood in 300 years. In Windsor, Hamilton and Montreal we had the wettest spring on record. We saw parts of Quebec under water.”

What sets this spring apart according to Phillips are these huge contrasts from one part of the country to another and even within the same province. Fire and flood in Alberta dominated the news. It’s rare, said Phillips, to see such diverse records in the same season.

“When I look at precipitation curves for the spring period, there are very interesting things,” he said. “In parts of the country (the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Lowlands) it was the wettest spring for 64 years. At the same time in parts of the Yukon, NWT and the northern prairies it was the driest in 64 years. When you see numbers like that it’s quite different (to the norm).”

The economic results can be huge with damaged infrastructure and delayed seeding in flood areas while dry areas suffered the onslaught of forest fires, devastating communities like Slave Lake in Alberta and Wollaston Lake in Saskatchewan. But we have not had the severe weather that has plagued the U.S. with tornadoes, hail and lightning.

“Our misery has been (caused by) fire and flood but in the U.S. the tornadoes have been life-changing.”

As of June 1st, there have been 1,415 tornadoes reported in the U.S. this year of which at least 1,007 were confirmed. This year has been destructive worldwide with 537 people dead. In Bangladesh, 12 people died, one died in New Zealand, one in the Philippines and an estimated 518 people have perished in tornadoes in the U.S. Compare that to 564 deaths in the U.S. in the entire decade previously.

The Joplin, Missouri, tornado that struck May 22nd was an EF-5, the highest rating. The tornado, which was over 1 km wide, tracked on the ground almost 10 km (6 miles) killing 134 people and injuring over 900. Some are still missing. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it was the deadliest tornado since record-keeping began in 1950. The worst on record was the notorious Tri-State twister, an EF-5 that struck Missouri, Indiana and Illinois March 18th 1925 with a 291-mile path killing 695 people.

As for this summer, predictions are for very welcome warmer than normal weather.

“Long range it will be generally hotter than normal from June through August,” said Phillips. “The only area not warmer than normal (we’re predicting) is the west coast of B.C. where near normal temperatures are predicted. But really from Hope eastward to Labrador we’re showing warmer than normal weather conditions.”

Warmer and dryer means finally a chance to get out planting and growing.