October 21, 2018

Winnipeg
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Province needs 'miserable rain'

Climatologist says dry spell could affect farmers, gardens, forests

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>A City of Winnipeg firefighter works to put out a grass fire on an industrial property off of Fermor just east of Lakeside Road. The tinder-like conditions are posing more than just a fire hazard, but may affect growers as well.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A City of Winnipeg firefighter works to put out a grass fire on an industrial property off of Fermor just east of Lakeside Road. The tinder-like conditions are posing more than just a fire hazard, but may affect growers as well.

The Winnipeg Jets aren’t the only thing scorching hot in Manitoba — the province is in the midst of an “unprecedented” and “record-breaking” heat wave and dry spell that could get a lot worse before it gets better.

According to Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, the province is in desperate need of some persistent rain in the lead up to forest fire season.

On Monday, as the Jets looked to eliminate the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of their best-of-seven NHL playoff matchup, the temperature in Winnipeg hit 31 C. That, Phillips noted, is 14 C warmer than average.

“One of the biggest surprises to me this year is that the Jets are still playing hockey and you’re not in a flood situation. Typically, if there is one weather guarantee, it would be a flood in southern Manitoba. Instead, it’s the driest place in Canada,” Phillips said.

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The Winnipeg Jets aren’t the only thing scorching hot in Manitoba — the province is in the midst of an "unprecedented" and "record-breaking" heat wave and dry spell that could get a lot worse before it gets better.

According to Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, the province is in desperate need of some persistent rain in the lead up to forest fire season.

On Monday, as the Jets looked to eliminate the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of their best-of-seven NHL playoff matchup, the temperature in Winnipeg hit 31 C. That, Phillips noted, is 14 C warmer than average.

"One of the biggest surprises to me this year is that the Jets are still playing hockey and you’re not in a flood situation. Typically, if there is one weather guarantee, it would be a flood in southern Manitoba. Instead, it’s the driest place in Canada," Phillips said.

"The situation is bone dry. Flood forecasters are sitting back with their feet up on their desks. Farmers are worried that there will be no moisture in the ground for growing season. It’s all about grass fires right now."

Not only was this April one of the driest in Manitoba in the past 150 years, but the lack of precipitation is shattering records — and not in a good way. So far in 2018, Winnipeg has received only 28 mm of total precipitation. Normally over that stretch, the city would get 97 mm. The previous low over that period was 44 mm in 1974.

Dating to October 2017 (which is when the "recharging season" begins), the province has only received 66 mm, while normally it’d get 181 mm over that stretch. Since the first day of spring, March 20, there’s been five mm of rain in Winnipeg, which would normally receive about 48 mm.

"We often see records broken by a tenth of a degree or a millimetre, but this is really not even in the same world. You’d almost need a monsoon to correct the situation over there," Phillips said.

"You want a steady, sustained rain over there. The kind of rain that will ruin someone’s weekend. You need a storm that comes in there like an unwanted house guest and just doesn’t leave."

Not only will the dry spell — which is bordering on a drought — potentially lead to an uptick in summer forest fires unless something changes, it could also negatively impact the economy, Phillips said.

The situation is getting dire enough that farmers may potentially wonder whether they should consider planting different crops this year, given the lack of moisture expected to be in the soil, he said.

It’s not just farmers who could be hit hard, he added, pointing out it will become an urban issue should it start effecting backyard gardens and the soil dries out so much building foundations start to crack.

"People might think this is great for drinking beer and hanging out on patios, but it’s becoming serious. The situation is kind of bleak in a way. I look at the long-range forecast and what we’re seeing for May, June, July, August is warmer than normal," Phillips said.

"You’re already behind the eight ball. You’re already in a critical situation. The forecast is serious. The forest fire people are probably nervous about what they’ll do once it really starts warming up. The province would be in flames right now if spring hadn’t been so cool. That really saved your bacon."

If there’s a silver lining for Phillips, it’s Manitobans can expect mosquitoes to be few and far between this summer, given the insects need standing water to breed.

"I would hate to paint a picture of what would happen if this keeps up. We’ve never seen it so dry. We’re entering into uncharted waters. If this continues, it will get worse before it gets better," Phillips said.

"No one has it like southern Manitoba right now. You need something to turn around. That can happen. It’s just there’s nothing on the horizon showing it will happen.

"You really need a miserable kind of rain. That’s what the doctor orders in this case."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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