By Dr. Adam Fenech and Don Jardine
Another year has gone by and it’s time to talk about Prince Edward Island’s top three weather stories of 2016. This past year continues to remind us of the important part weather plays in our everyday lives. Every year brings stories of weather no matter where you are, and Prince Edward Island is no different. And while I am tempted to speak about the recent snow storms or cold weather, it is more appropriate to focus on the strange weather of 2016. Here are my top three weather stories for 2016, and how they affected Prince Edward Island.
Number 3 – See-Saw Winter Temperatures
Winter temperatures see-sawed between cold snaps and record-breaking warm temperatures through much of the first two months of 2016. A winter snowstorm on January 29 was followed days later with temperature highs of 9°C, about 12 to 14 degrees Celsius warmer than normal. Temperatures then see-sawed between –6°C the following day, back up to 9°C by the end of the week, and then down again by the weekend to –7°C accompanied by another significant snowstorm. By the end of February, another cold spell was quickly broken by record-setting warm temperatures on February 25 of 12°C eclipsing the previous record of 7.9°C from 1996. All of these unusual see-saw temperatures had their impact.
- Firefighters in St. Eleanors had to put out a grass fire as a result of the soaring February temperatures for the first time in at least 30 years. The fire was quite small and it took firefighters ten minutes using a few brooms and shovels to extinguish.
- The annual Jack Frost Festival held at the Charlottetown Event Grounds delayed opening due to the warm and wet weather. Workers trucked in snow and covered their snow structures with tarpaulins to slow the melting.
- Outdoor skating rinks took a hit thanks to the surging temperatures, turning many into what looked like giant puddles. Rinks maintained by the cities of Charlottetown and Summerside all closed during the warm conditions.
- The golf course at French River is usually the first on the Prince Edward Island to open, and they did so in February of 2016, the earliest ever for the course. The grass on the French River course is organic, pesticide-free, and not as tender as other golf courses, allowing it to risk frost damage.
Number 2 – Hit-and-Miss Summer Precipitation
In July, a storm ran across Prince Edward Island wreaking havoc in isolated areas, but left no trace of its existence in the official records as the rain missed falling where any weather stations operated by Environment and Climate Change Canada exist. There are nine weather stations across PEI operated by Environment and Climate Change Canada, but according to Canadian government officials, it’s unlikely the Island will be getting more because they are “quite expensive and generally the network fills the basic need.” This results in gaps across the Island where extreme weather events can occur and be missed by the official Environment Canada network of weather stations.
For an hour on July 24, a small storm cell hit an area just north of Montague dropping over 75 millimetres, and over 100 millimetres in some places. Some Waste Watch carts were washed to the Montague River by the flooding waters; portions of Brook Street and Patrick Street were washed out or damaged; a concrete barrier at the boat launch area of the Montague Marina was damaged; many homes had flooded basements; the Queens Road ditches overflowed and caused flooding of the road; and one person was observed kayaking in the ditch of the Queens Road, which was completely dry before the storm. The rainfall was so isolated that even the weather stations operated by the Climate Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island at Cardigan Head, Flat River, Orwell Corner, and Alliston reported no rainfall during this storm event.
Another similar storm cell of about 6-10 kilometres wide hit the Elmwood area the same day dropping over 75 millimetres of rain in one hour in many areas. The rain was very intense, pelting down with some force, including some hail reported on the most westerly parts of the area. Thunder and lightning were intense especially on the eastern end of the Wynn Road where a swimming pool and power pole insulators were damaged by lightning strikes. This hit-and-miss rainfall points out the need for more weather stations across Prince Edward Island to provide a dense network able to capture these types of extreme weather events for our records, and more importantly, for Islander insurance claims.
Number 1 – Global Warm Temperatures
Global temperatures soared toward a record high in 2016, coming after a full year of record temperatures in 2015. The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported global temperatures, boosted by the El Nino phenomenon, 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels. The WMO said 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred this century with the only exception being 1998, which was also an El Nino year. El Nino is a temporary change of climate that happens every few years when winds shift in the Pacific Ocean along the equator, warming the water more than usual. These El Nino events trigger changing weather patterns globally.
These types of global average temperatures have regional impacts. Temperatures in the Arctic were almost 30°C warmer than average just before Christmas Day. Ocean buoys recorded temperatures near the North Pole of 0°C or warmer, with media outlets reporting temperatures in the Arctic as being warmer than in Thunder Bay, Ontario. This wasn’t an isolated event as Arctic temperatures were unusually warm for the last few months of 2016. The warmer temperatures are a sign that climate change is happening and is part of a changing world. It underscores the need to quickly reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for warming the planet.
Islanders love their weather. Islanders are defined by the weather – we live by it. We are at the whims of Nature and the weather it brings. It keeps us at home, keeps us from work, keeps our kids from school yet it brings communities together. While tragic at times, our weather brings out our great spirit of humanity, sense of community and commitment to always look out for each other. From North Cape to East Point, West Point to Murray Head – and all points in-between – weather shapes who we are. Happy New Year to all.
. The PEI Weather Trivia Calendar 2017 is available for purchase at pharmacies and book stores across the Island. This year’s calendar offers 365 all new PEI weather stories for every day of the year; twelve beautiful full-colour PEI weather photographs; information about lightning strikes on Prince Edward Island including their frequency, location and seasonality; stories of storm surges; historical PEI weather stories from the start of the First World War (1914), PEI’s first Ice Breaking Ferry (1916), and when the women of PEI won the right to vote and hold public office (1922); and much, much more!
Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at firstname.lastname@example.org or (902) 620-5220