Newfoundland 2050: Higher temperatures, more extreme weather

Newfoundland may see destructive storms like Hurricane Igor more often by 2050.
The extreme weather forecast for Newfoundland and Labrador is calling for more storms, and more powerful storms, as the province undergoes warming of between 2 and 4 degrees Celcius by the middle of this century due to climate change.

These are the findings of a new study, penned by climatologist Dr. Joel Finnis of Memorial University in St. John's, NL, and released yesterday by the provincial government.

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Using the trends in weather and climate in the province from 1968 to 2000, Dr. Finnis used four different 'downscaled' climate models — one Canadian, two American and one British — to project what the weather and climate may be like for Newfoundlanders between the years 2038 and 2070. Typical climate models look at things on a global scale, over all 510 million square kilometres of the Earth's surface, and divide the globe up into very large grid squares (up to 1000 kms on a side) so that climatologists can get the model results before they're old and grey. A 'downscaled' model focuses on a much smaller area, and in this case, the models run by Dr. Finnis used a grid with squares 50 kilometres on a side to look at climate affects just over Newfoundland and Labrador.

The results of the model runs showed that the province will see a rise in temperature, of between 2 and 4 degrees C, by 2050. This is expected to increase the length of the growing season in the province, and make for shorter winters, which might not be such a bad thing, but there are dangers that come along with these kinds of across-the-board temperature rises. With the largest temperature rises (over what they are now) expected in the most northern parts of the province, this will likely lead to permafrost melting, releasing large amounts of trapped carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, which is expected to accelerate climate change.

Along with the increase in temperature will come an increase in humidity and precipitation, which will mean more extreme weather events and an increase in the intensity of these events. Specifically, it found that 'storms of the century' — not the term that seems to get tacked on to any big storm these days, but the actual extremely powerful storms we only typically see once every 100 years — could happen at least twice as often, possibly up to four times as often, in the years to come. Similarly, storms we have only seen once every 50 years could hit every 20-25 years instead, and we could start to see storms every couple of years that match the strength of ones that would only hit once every 20 years or so up until now.

This will also include tropical storms and hurricanes. Although climate models are saying that there isn't likely to be an overall increase in the average number of Atlantic hurricanes, they are predicting that the storms that do happen will tend towards the stronger end of the scale, with more storms reaching category 3, 4 or 5 than there have been in the past. Dr. Finnis' study shows that they are already starting to impact on Newfoundland and Labrador more often in recent years.

A total of 26 named storms have hit the province since 1990, including four hurricanes — Luis (1995), Michael (2000), Gustav (2002) and Igor (2010). Hurricane Igor was the most destructive of these, causing between $150-$200 million in damages.

According to an interview with The Telegram, Dr. Finnis doesn't think Newfoundland and Labrador will experience any stronger climate changes than the rest of Canada, but "it is more susceptible to certain outcomes relevant to climate change."

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This study not only acts as a warning of what we can expect if stronger efforts aren't made towards curbing climate change, but it's also a useful tool for the provincial government, to give them some idea of what to expect, and what they should plan for to improve their infrastructure.

"The projections help us see what our climate will look like over the next half century," said Minister of Environment and Conservation Tom Hedderson in a statement."This vital information improves decision-making by all levels of government, businesses and organizations when dealing with and planning for changing weather patterns."

"This important work will result in informed infrastructure decisions for transportation officials and municipal planners as well as improved planning processes for the agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism industries," he added. "These changes have implications for every community and all sectors of our economy, allowing risk assessment and long-term economic development planning to take place with this in mind."

(Photo courtesy: Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)


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