Forest fires, flooding could follow warm Sask. winter.

March 10, 2016 - 4:47pm
Forest fire in La Ronge, 2015
Government of Saskatchewan
Forest fire in La Ronge, 2015

A climate change expert at the University of Saskatchewan is warning that there could be extreme weather events in the coming months after an unseasonably warm winter.
According to John Pomeroy, southern Saskatchewan was five degrees above normal during the month of February. Most of Alberta and the south-western corner of Manitoba also experienced record-breaking warmth.
"To be five degrees above normal in winter can be much more pleasant, but as a result, we don't have a spring snowpack over much of the southern province," the Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change and director of the Centre for Hydrology at the U of S said.
And according to Pomeroy, forest fires are strongly correlated to a lack of snow or very early snow melt.
"We have to be ready for another bad forest fire season as a result of this," he said.
Pomeroy added that it has rained every month this winter, which has created thick ice layers in the remaining snow pack and top soil. That could spell for heavy runoff and put the prairies at a higher risk of flooding than normal.
There are a number of factors causing the warm weather being felt across the prairies.
Part of it has to do with the long-term climate warming trend seen over the last 50 years, which Pomeroy points out is most pronounced in late winter and early spring on the prairies. The El Nino climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean is also causing shifts in weather around the globe this year. But Pomeroy adds that last year was still quite warm without an El Nino effect. That was because of a "blob of warm water" off the Pacific coast of North America that is still there.
Pomeroy warns that the costs of extreme weather events can be very high. Since 2000, flooding costs in Canada have been around $1 billion per year "and a disproportionate amount of that is occurring in Saskatchewan ... so we've got to be ready for these extremes."
He would like to see preparations and repairs made to infrastructure, roads and water management before it's too late.
"These are the things we need to continue to improve so we can survive these types of events."