From Shaman’s Rock
By Jim Poling Sr.
Canada is winter country and we Canadians are winter people. So, I’m concerned about what is happening to our winters.
Is the current one of above average temperatures, stretches of grey rain-snow drizzle and freaky storms just a fluke? Or is this a trend that will change our winter lives?
If just a fluke, it’s certainly an extended one.
December saw only 16 days below freezing in Haliburton County, most only marginally below. The coldest daytime temperature last month was minus seven Celsius and there were 10 days of rain.
This has continued into January. The first half of the month saw mainly above normal temperatures and five days with at least a trace of rain. Forecasts indicate above average temperatures for the rest of the month.
Scientific data show temperatures are rising around the world. More importantly, winter temperatures are warming faster than temperatures in summer, spring or autumn.
The last eight Januarys (2017-2022) rank among the world’s 10 warmest Januarys on record. January 2022 was the 46th consecutive January and the 445th consecutive month with world temperatures above average.
If global warming is in fact making our winters less wintery, why are we still seeing record-breaking heavy snowfalls, plus bone-chilling temperatures in places that never have had them before?
In fact, say researchers, global warming is causing unusual cold in some places and extreme precipitation events, such as last month’s two- to three-foot snowfall, in others
They say Arctic warming is creating a less stable jet stream, the strong west-to-east upper atmosphere winds that have been shifting north to south and changing usual weather patterns. Also, water temperatures are warmer and putting more moisture into the air.
Complicating things even more is the fact that snowpacks are getting smaller and melting earlier. Snow is an excellent reflector of sunlight and with fewer days of snow cover more sunlight is absorbed into and heating the ground.
Some scientists believe that the winter we are experiencing now will be the norm in coming decades. Robert McLeman, professor of Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, wrote in the Globe and Mail recently that unless climate change is seriously addressed there will be no outdoor skating 50 years from now.
Warmer winters with more rain and less snow will have serious impact on winter sports other than outdoor ice skating. Ski resorts here and in Europe have been operating at reduced capacity because of the warmth. Winter is half over and some lakes still are not safely iced over to permit snowmobiling and ice fishing.
Warmer winters also affect our food supplies. Droughts, floods and soil loss make food production more difficult for farmers and ranchers.
Climate changes such as warmer waters can alter the ranges of many fish and shellfish species. Changing climate already has resulted in some marine disease outbreaks and Arctic warming is believed to be reducing salmon stocks in the Bering Sea.
Warmer winters also are affecting fruit and vegetable production, notably in California which has been suffering wild weather extremes.
Many crops require a certain amount of cold weather, which producers call chill hours. Without that, pollination can be delayed or incomplete and reduce crop yields.
Even honey production is affected by warmer winter temperatures. If it is too warm in January, honeybees will leave their hives and the queens might start laying eggs. When they start burning energy in winter, bees eat too much of the honey stored for winter and face starvation..
Then, of course, there is the big threat to those who spend time in the woods – the bugs.
Bugs don’t like the cold and longer, colder winters mean fewer of them hatching in spring. Warmer winters allow frozen bug eggs to hatch sooner, producing clouds of new bugs to emerge and begin irritating us earlier in spring.
But bugs can be more than irritating. Some mosquito species carry dangerous diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika and West Nile.
There is concern that a warmer, wetter climate will bring more mosquitoes and the diseases they carry further north.
The federal Public Health Agency has said that mosquito-borne diseases have increased 10 per cent Canada in last 20 years, largely due to climate change.