You wouldn’t know it from the blizzard that swept through the province at the start of this week, but Saskatchewan is actually getting warmer.
“The number of days with temperatures above 30° C are increasing, and the number of days with cold temperatures [below -40° C] are decreasing,” says Dr. Elaine Wheaton, a climatologist with the Saskatchewan Research Council. The SRC is one of several organizations, including Environment Canada and the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre, examining climate change on the Prairies. According to Wheaton, temperatures in Saskatchewan over the last 30 years are the highest on record.
The province’s warmer winters reveal profoundly changing weather patterns. For most of the 20th century, temperatures dipped below -20° C in Regina an average of 54 days a year; over the last three decades, that number has dropped to between 44 and 45 days, according to Environment Canada. “Our winters aren’t like they used to be,” says David Phillips, Environment Canada’s senior meteorologist.
Phillips and Wheaton both agree that climate change will hit the Prairies hard. Decreased snowpack can lead to droughts when the spring thaw doesn’t produce enough water, and higher temperatures also offer a more inviting environment for mountain pine beetles that destroy trees, and mosquitoes that can carry the West Nile virus.
Saskatchewan isn’t the only place where winter is losing its bite—since the 1940s, the average yearly temperature across the country has risen by 2.2° C, and in parts of B.C. and the Territories by as much as 4.5° C, according to Environment Canada. Going forward, “we’ll still be the land of ice and snow,” says Phillips, but “there will certainly be more need to have air conditioning.”