WEATHER

A wintry forecast

Strange phenomena upset the Canadian summer

PATRICIA CHISHOLM July 27 1992
WEATHER

A wintry forecast

Strange phenomena upset the Canadian summer

PATRICIA CHISHOLM July 27 1992

A wintry forecast

WEATHER

Strange phenomena upset the Canadian summer

In St. John’s, Nfld., many residents last week had not yet turned off their furnaces as average daytime temperatures sank about 5° C below normal seasonal temperatures of 15.5° C. In the fruit-growing region of Ontario’s Niagara peninsula, peaches were still unseasonably green and early cherries were swollen and split after days of rain. Although British Columbia had more days than usual without rain in March,

May and June, resort and campground operators on the Prairies said that cold, wet weather convinced many vacationers either to cut short their holidays or even stay home altogether. But in the Yukon, a warmer than normal June started a run on electric fans because most residents do not own air conditioners.

In a country where extremes of weather are the norm, climatic conditions across Canada this summer disrupted the vacation plans of many people and left others puzzled by the unusual weather patterns.

Said Nicolette Novak, a fruit farmer in Beamsville, Ont.:

“All our fruit is delayed by 10 days to two weeks and we don’t know whether we will eventually get the heat we need. This weather is a pain in the butt.”

The reasons for the unusually cool, wet weather in most parts of the country have been a frequent topic of speculation. But meteorologists and climatologists agree on the causes of the abnormal weather patterns in North America and other parts of the world. Most of the blame for unusual weather systems, they say, can be traced to the effects of an errant current of warm water in the tropical Pacific Ocean known as El Niño. The havoc caused by El Niño has included prolonged droughts in southern Africa, torrential flooding in Texas and southern California and snowstorms in the Middle East. At the same time, scientists said that the massive eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in June, 1991, left a blanket of volcanic ash in the earth’s atmosphere that is blocking the sun’s rays and bringing cooler temperatures to many parts of the globe. Last week, the volcano was active again when a

relatively minor eruption blew steam about 1,300 feet into the atmosphere.

But as Canadians huddled in muddy campgrounds and listened to the rain pounding on the roofs of their cottages earlier this month, many said that they were most concerned about their own marred holidays. On June 21, the first day of summer, the maximum temperature in Toronto was 10.8° C, as southern

Ontario experienced the coolest weather for that date since 1840, when statisticians began to keep records. In many parts of the country, more rain fell in the first two weeks of July than normally falls during the entire month. And while Vancouver enjoyed more days without rain than is usual in June (there were only seven rainy days instead of the usual average of 18), the city reeled under torrential rains during one three-day period, resulting in total precipitation for the month that was twice as much as the 30-year average for June. In the Yukon, the weather was unusually warm. During the last three days of June, the tiny community of Old Crow, near the Beaufort Sea, recorded temperatures of more than 30° C. At the same time, record-setting snowfalls last

winter created larger than normal amounts of spring runoff that resulted in more pools of standing water and a bumper crop of mosquitoes this summer.

The weather also delayed crops and changed growing conditions in many parts of the country. Although Prince Edward Island’s $ 100million potato crop developed well in the wet weather, it also became more susceptible to late blight, a fungus that commonly attacks potatoes. At the same time, the rain hampered efforts to apply the pesticides that are used to control outbreaks of the disease. Elsewhere in the Atlantic provinces and in Central Canada, farmers said that some crops were a week to 10 days behind their usual growing schedules. While most crops still have time to recover if there is enough heat in the remainder of July and August, some, like hay, are likely to suffer this year. Indeed, some farm experts predicted that New Brunswick’s annual harvest of hay, which is used mainly to feed livestock, could

decline by as much as 30 per cent, while Ontario may experience a drop of between 25 and 50 per cent. In Ontario, many farmers also said that they were watching their cornfields anxiously and worrying about the fate of the province’s $750-million annual crop.

In the West, many grain farmers said that they were reasonably optimistic about their crops despite unusual weather patterns in the region. Darryl Kristjanson, a policy analyst for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in Regina, said that the northern Prairies, which usually receive abundant rain, were generally dry this year, while the frequently hot, dry south had received up to 40 per cent more rain than usual. As a result, low crop yields in the north will likely be balanced by above-average yields

in the south. Added Kristjanson: “It has been cooler than usual. But sometimes that is an advantage, especially in drier areas. It means the crop doesn’t fry and it loses less moisture.”

Other losers to the summer’s inclement weather will include some of the firms that make up one of Canada’s largest money-makers, the $26-billion-a-year tourist industry. Already battered by the current recession and the 18-month-old Goods and Services Tax, the operators of many resorts, campgrounds and other holiday attractions reported that business was down by as much as 25 per cent as a result of poor weather. At Cavendish Sunset Campgrounds, about 60 km northwest of Charlottetown, the number of visitors has dropped by about 30 per cent. Said Lisa Gallant, a reservations clerk at the campsite: “The weather has been rainy and cold—more like fall weather really. We have had people come down with reservations for a week and then leave part way through for home or a motel.” Added Gallant: “Even the bar across the street is suffering.” In picturesque Saint Andrews, N.B., officials at the Algonquin Hotel said that they had experienced a decline in visitors of about five per cent this summer.

The pattern has been similar across most of the country. In Ontario, attendance at the popular Metropolitan Toronto Zoo was down by about 11 per cent compared with the same period last year. In Manitoba, which has had an unusually rainy summer, the number of people visiting local beaches, campgrounds and resorts dropped “significantly,” according to Dennis Maksymetz, manager of marketing

promotions for Manitoba Tourism. He added: “Nobody wants to camp in the mud.” And in Alberta, as rain fell for eight of the 10 days of the Calgary Stampede earlier this month, attendance tumbled by about 36,000, or three per cent, compared with last year. Said Stampede spokesman Dan Sullivan: “It wasn’t only the rain. It was cool. We thought it might snow a couple of times.”

But in Vancouver, where the late winter and spring were drier than usual, municipal authorities had to impose restrictions on lawnwatering and other non-essential uses of water throughout the Lower Mainland area. And even though rainfall during the first half of July was normal, the ban remained in effect, partly because water levels in the area’s three main reservoirs was 10 to 12 per cent below normal.

Climatologists said that the summer’s weather, while unusual, was within normal climatic fluctuations. They attributed the abnormal patterns to the disruptive effects of El Niño, the large current of warm water in the Pacific. El Niño forms about once every four or five years, usually in December (the name means “the Christ child” in Spanish and refers to the occurrence of the phenomenon near Jesus’ birthday). As a result of warm air rising from El Niño, a ridge of high pressure settled over the Rocky Mountains early this year, disrupting air currents over the continent. “It’s like a rock in the middle of a river,” said Environment Canada climatologist Bruce Findlay. The high-pressure ridge created dry, warm conditions in Western Canada during the late winter and spring, and later brought Arctic

air into other parts of Canada and the United States.

The weather analysis was complicated by the influence of Mount Pinatubo, which last summer exploded in the largest eruption since the blast from Mount Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1883. As sulphur, carbon dioxide, ash and dust from Pinatubo circulated in the earth’s stratosphere during the past 12 months, the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface declined, reducing average global temperatures by about half a degree. Some climatologists said that the cooling caused by the volcano would probably last for between two and five years. They added that during that time, the cooling caused by volcanic ash would conceal the effects of the so-called greenhouse effect— the gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere that some scientists say is the result of manmade emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases entering the atmosphere.

In addition, experts said that it might be some time before normal weather patterns return. Although the effect of El Niño is waning, most Canadians can expect unsettled weather for the rest of the summer. Said Environment Canada’s Findlay: “By the time the high-pressure ridge is gone, the summer will be as well.” It was a bleak prognosis for a country whose citizens struggle through each winter in growing anticipation of their short, but blessed, northern summer.

PATRICIA CHISHOLM with JOHN HOWSE in Calgary, JOHN DeMONT in Halifax and JAMES DEACON in Toronto

PATRICIA CHISHOLM

JOHN HOWSE

JOHN DeMONT

JAMES DEACON