This blog post was co-authored by Virginia Wittrock and Suzanne Johnston.
You can’t go into a coffee shop anywhere on the Prairies without hearing someone talk about the weather. In Saskatchewan, it can feel like we live with a weather teenager who has sudden mood swings.
Let’s forget about weather’s good side for a moment (yes, yes – we know you love to post photos of vibrant sunsets and golden canola fields on Instagram) and focus on the ugly. We mean the really ugly. The kind of extreme weather that significantly impacts our economy, society and environment. In summer, for example, we’re talking about hail, tornadoes, plow winds, no rain, hot temperatures - all of which can lead to flooding, drought, insects, diseases and forest fires. The kind of hazards that put our lives and properties at risk. Because it’s important to prepare for these types of weather events, so we can reduce the impacts and become more adaptable to these ever-present weather mood swings.
Extreme summer weather isn’t going away. Saskatchewan’s weather has had multiple mood swings this summer. We’ve had no rain, too much rain, tornadoes, plow winds and everything in between. But we’ve learned, to a certain extent, how to deal with this volatile weather teenager by studying its climatological past, looking at its trends, and knowing our strengths and weaknesses so that we can cope with the fast changes that can occur.
Here are a few of the big summer weather hazards.
In southern Saskatchewan, 2017 has so far been a pretty great summer for those that enjoy hot sunny days, getting the hay crop off without issue and life at the cabin. But then you look at your lawn, and your fields and… when did it get so dry?! Drought is one of those sneaky hazards that broods under the radar for a while until it rears its ugly head. Most drought events can take a while to form into something really extreme, but they have HUGE implications because they impact a large region and can be extremely intense. So much so that the 2001-2002 drought resulted in Canada’s Gross Domestic Product dropping by about $5.8 billion1.
Also, droughts have been known to migrate, most noticeably from south to north. Canada’s Prairie provinces, especially the southern region, are ‘ground zero’ for severe droughts.
And then there’s the frustrating scenario where agriculture is suffering from lack of rain, but the sloughs and ponds are overflowing due to recent years of extreme rainfall and large spring snow melt… welcome to Saskatchewan!
Droughts and hot summer weather also bring other side effects, like increased amounts of algal blooms on sloughs and increased risk of that pesky mosquito the culex tarsalis (the one that carries the West Nile virus), as well as ground shifting like what is occurring in Regina.
One of the other off-shoots of little precipitation are forest and grass wildfires. Saskatchewan’s last severe forest fire year was in 2015 when more than 10,000 people had to be evacuated out of danger zones. Thankfully Saskatchewan hasn’t had too bad of a year yet, but its still wildfire season. We need to be diligent and aware of dry conditions.
Other parts of Saskatchewan are dealing with too much water. Since 2010, Saskatchewan has had extreme rainfall events that closed main highways, such as in June 2010 when an extreme rainfall event in the Maple Creek region resulted in part of the Trans-Canada Highway being washed away due to heavy flooding.
The North and South Saskatchewan Rivers had localized flooding in June 2013 from the same weather system that flooded Calgary and High River. This year, we continue to have localized flooding, such as on the Quill Lakes and the Churchill River. These situations are impacting communities, agricultural lands (can’t get a crop planted or harvested if the land is under water), infrastructure (increasing road height; putting dykes around farm yards); and recreational activities (this year, canoeing on the Churchill is only for the very experienced).
Flooding and high groundwater levels also result in coulee and/or river bank slumping and land slides. These events have occurred throughout Saskatchewan’s history, but where buildings and infrastructure are at risk - like in Saskatoon and in communities along Last Mountain Lake - is where the greatest effects are felt.
Shorter Weather Events with Big Impact
There’s a lot of water on the ground from our recent wet years and with the warm temperatures we’ve had, the atmosphere can hold a lot of water resulting in thunderstorms. This summer has seen a lot of thunderstorms with accompanying lightning and occasionally localized flooding (like portions of Saskatoon on July 10). We’ve also seen some beautiful cloud formations like the mammatus clouds from a thunderstorm/tornado watch system that occurred at the end of July in the Saskatoon region.
Extreme Weather Safety Reminder
It’s important to have your wits about you this summer – with an cranky weather teenager, expect the unexpected. Listen and watch for weather alerts. Consider adding a 72-hour emergency kit to your home or cabin in case of power outages or worse. Make sure it’s safe before you venture outdoors if you want to watch or take photos/video of weather events.
- SRC's Climate Reference Stations in Saskatoon and at the Conservation Learning Centre near Prince Albert provide high quality and consistent climatological observations that address climate change effects and the increased climate variability on the Prairies. Take a virtual tour.
- SRC’s Climatology team develops, tests and transfers climatic information, which can lead to environmental, economic and social benefits for Saskatchewan and the world. They study climate hazards, provide climatic impact assessments and adaptation strategies, and monitor climate variability.