North American droughts and floods linked, Sask. expert

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June 5, 2015 - 6:16pm
Aerial photo of flooding at lake in Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy Government Relations
Aerial photo of flooding at lake in Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy Government Relations

Crazy weather across North American could all be linked and bare the "fingerprint" of climate change according to a Saskatchewan hydrology expert.

California is now four years into the worst drought the state has ever experienced. Meanwhile central plains state such as Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma have been rocked with floods, tornadoes, hail and lightning for weeks, leaving homes destroyed and more than 30 people dead.

Water resources and climate change Canada Research Chair John Pomeroy said while it can take a while to pinpoint exactly what causes certain changes in climate and weather, scientists have begun to label the Californian drought as an abnormal dry spell with the hallmarks of climate change.

To make matters worse, Saskatchewan's drought, including the driest May on record, may be linked to California's.

"They're part of patterns around the world for increasingly severe droughts and floods. Particularly the last 10 years have been outrageous around the world," Pomeroy said.

Climate change, rather than simply causing droughts around the world, will cause large climate variations. For example, Pomeroy said Environment Canada scientists have linked last year's floods in Saskatchewan to melting in the Arctic which "itself is associated with man-made climate change."

This year, a blocking system over North America has caused cool wet weather to settle in the central plaines states. Meanwhile, a northerly jet stream is sweeping warm air across California, up to Western Canada and the Western Arctic.

"What's coming out of the whole climate change is not the warming so much, it's the cycling between drought and flood that's the problem," Pomeroy said. 

Pomeroy said floods and droughts have cost Saskatchewan billions of dollars in economic damages while insurance rates have increased as severe weather events become more common.

"That impoverishes our whole society," he said. "For us to stay a prosperous society in the face of this is going to be an increasing challenge."

Pomeroy said an estimated 99 per cent of the South Saskatchewan's water supply flows in from Alberta. This year, the mountains were warm and dry, resulting in one of the smallest snowpacks for the area, which began to melt a month earlier than normal. Without rain, Saskatchewan could begin to feel the effects of a prolonged drought by late summer.

Roughly 70 to 80 per cent of all water consumption in the province goes towards land and agriculture irrigation, however, water conservation in the cities may still be a necessity.

Last Monday, the cities of Regina and Moose Jaw asked residents to conserve water over water quality issues and an excess growth of algae in Buffalo Pound Lake. Their efforts continue.

Warman has also asked people to cut back on water usage, but Saskatoon says it does not have any plans for the immediate future.

lkretzel@rawlco.com

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