Tag Archives: Prairies

Drought is back on the Prairies

From the Globe and Mail

All across western Saskatchewan and southern Alberta, farmers are scanning crop-insurance policies and calculating how short they’ll be on payments this year as one of the worst droughts on record parches their land and their bank accounts.

The dry conditions are also wreaking havoc on local wildlife, prompting watering bans and spoiling Canada Day parties.

While some regions have seen the driest June on Environment Canada records, researchers who’ve studied longer periods of prairie weather say this could be the start of something worse.

“When you look at a thousand-year record, we’ve been pretty lucky since the West was settled,” said Dave Sauchyn, a University of Regina geography professor and research co-ordinator for the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative. “We’ve had quite a favourable climate, largely avoiding the extremely dry conditions we’ve seen in the past.”

Dr. Sauchyn put together the thousand-year record of prairie water levels using tree rings. Judging by the rings, the prairie climate could easily plunge into an extended drought similar to that of the 1790s, when the North Saskatchewan River went dry.

Climate models suggest that history may soon repeat. The region has experienced the two driest seasons on record – the last one coming in 2001-2002 at a $5.8-billion hit to the national economy – all inside the past 10 years.

“We can’t possibly say with any certainty that this is a sign of global warming, but it’s entirely consistent with global climate model projections,” said Dr. Sauchyn. “All this means is it’s highly probable we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.”

Already nine counties in Alberta have declared states of emergency due to extreme dryness. The province banned all private Canada Day fireworks celebrations. Restrictions on fires and watering have been instituted all over the region.

It hasn’t been easy on the animal world, either. Parks officials have noted a large migration of beavers away from dry areas and into riverfront parkland in Edmonton.

Some dry areas have sponged up a few inches of rain since municipalities first started declaring states of emergency two weeks ago, but Environment Canada’s Drought Watch map still shows a red stain of extreme aridity covering Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and stretching east towards Rosetown and Swift Current.