Scientists say weather getting harder to predict, warn British Columbians to be prepared

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A pedestrian carries a fan during extreme temperatures in Vancouve in June 2021. Summer 2022 is expected to be cooler in the province, but weather experts say climate change is making it harder to make accurate forecasts. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A pedestrian carries a fan during extreme temperatures in Vancouve in June 2021. Summer 2022 is expected to be cooler in the province, but weather experts say climate change is making it harder to make accurate forecasts. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Summer is just around the corner, and while B.C. is expected to have a cooler and wetter one than last year, scientists say climate change is making it harder to predict the weather and it's critical that people are prepared for all possible scenarios.

In 2021, wildfires sprang up much earlier than usual, with drought conditions and a series of deadly heat waves leading to widespread fire activity. Before Canada Day, temperatures rose above 40 C in many parts of the province.

Experts say while this does not look like the case this year, climate change is making it harder to be precise about predictions.

The challenge, they say, is that to forecast future weather, meteorologists factor in past weather patterns — something that is becoming harder to do as the weather becomes more volatile.

"Summers used to be hot. Winters used to be cold. Things were foreseeable," says Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, speaking to The Early Edition.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Climatologists study weather patterns over time and Phillips says monitoring ocean currents that hugely influence weather patterns is a helpful tool, but he "wouldn't bet the family farm" on what's in store for British Columbians this summer and "only offer a guess."

And his guess is that it will be cool and wet, with August looking warmer than July and June looking like, well, "June-uary."

When there is a nice day, says Philips, you better pounce.

"You've got to take advantage of it because you never know what's around the corner," he said.

Justine Boulin/CBC
Justine Boulin/CBC

Paul Beckwith, climate systems specialist and professor at the University of Ottawa, says it is getting more difficult to make weather predictions as the melting polar ice cap increases the "frequency, severity and duration" of extreme weather events.

"The statistics of weather has changed because the climate has changed," said Beckwith, speaking to On The Island.

Beckwith calls this new reality a "climate casino" because it's getting harder to know what's coming and a lot of it is unlucky.

Be your own weather person

Because weather variability is increasing, both Philips and Beckwith want British Columbians to be prepared for whatever the atmosphere has in store — be it fires, floods, or, thinking longer term, the inevitable rising of sea levels in coastal communities.

Beckwith recommends people have a generator on hand in case a weather event cuts their power off for long periods of time.

And Philips wants people to pay attention to the weather around them rather than solely relying on the weather channel.

"People expect to be told by Big Brother that the storm is coming [their] way and I think that what we need to do is to be more of own weather person," said Philips.

"Don't leave home without getting the weather word, but also keep an eye on the sky."

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