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‘Normal Weather Doesn’t Exist Anymore,’ Says Veteran CBC Climatologist Dave Phillips

U.S. Department of Defense

From an overheating Arctic to a frigid B.C. Lower Mainland and Maritimes, from a parched (then drowning) Prairie region to an epically deluged Eastern Canada, the fingerprints of the climate crisis were all over the extreme weather events experienced by Canadians in 2019, says legendary Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips.

Speaking with National Observer about his 24th year putting together an annual list of the nation’s top weather stories, Phillips said [1] 2019 felt very different in its extremity and strangeness.

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“It’s like normal weather doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. And the departure from the norm is a problem, since “we base everything on normal weather. We build houses, we build schools, we plant crops and seeds and trees and go on vacation based on normal weather.”

Commenting on his top weather event for the year—the biblically-proportioned flooding on the Ottawa River—Phillips said rising waters were very much a core theme for the year, with “enormous floods” reported throughout Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick.

With the advent of the climate crisis, he added, so-called “once-in-a-lifetime floods” are becoming more commonplace.

Power outages courtesy of wildly intense, frequently out of place storms were another theme for the year, CBC reports [3]. The national broadcaster cites Hurricane Dorian “which made landfall in Atlantic Canada in September as a post-tropical storm,” uprooting trees and “pounding the area with heavy rains and high waves”.

Describing climate change as akin to “the weather on steroids,” Phillips explained that warming oceans are now understood to make hurricanes both more intense and slower-moving, conditions which maximize their destructive power.

Arctic residents, together with both Prairie and Maritime farmers, were hardest hit by the climate crisis this year, Observer writes. “Arctic sea ice froze the latest on record since 1979,” while “summer temperatures in the High Arctic were between 2.5 and 5.4°C above normal,” making the season the warmest in 72 years.

Amongst the consequences of such heat, ice roads closed far too early and, according to CBC coverage of Phillips’ list, August lightning struck within 500 kilometres of the North Pole.

“The North is the most important story,” Phillips said, and “will be the most important story of the century.”

Farmers and ranchers likewise “took some climate-related blows,” writes Observer, with a “worryingly cold and dry” first six months giving way to another four months of crop-drowning deluges.

 “How are they supposed to handle that?” Phillips asked.

Also on his top 10 list was a brutally cold, snowy winter throughout much of the West and on the Atlantic Coast, as well as Alberta’s fire season, which “consumed an area roughly 14 times that of the average” and led to 10,000 people being evacuated by the end of May, CBC says.

Phillips said some of the extreme weather events of 2019 “seem to have a policy implication,” pointing to growing awareness of the need to stop building in floodplains. Aa well, Observer says the veteran weathercaster “is now taking calls from kids who want to become climatologists to help change public attitudes.”

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