A farmer harvests her hay on a farm near Cremona, Alta., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. A report released by Natural Resources Canada says the Prairies are warming at the fastest rate of any region in the southern part of the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Federal scientists predict Prairie climate as drier, grassier and fiery

Federal scientists predict Prairie climate as drier, grassier and fiery

Federal scientists are predicting a hot, dry and fiery future for the Prairies.

“In a warming climate, you can expect extreme weather events to occur with increased severity,” said Dave Sauchyn, a professor at the University of Regina and a lead author in an extensive report released Monday by Natural Resources Canada.

It’s the first in an expected series rounding up the latest research on climate change and its impacts and applying that to different regions of the country.

The Prairies report begins with a warning that the West is warming the quickest of any area in southern Canada and that those effects are already being seen.

“In winter, much of Western Canada is warming at three times the global rate,” Sauchyn said.

The look of the West can be expected to change.

The report sayssouthern grasslands and central parklands will spread north. The boreal forest will shrink and some alpine ecosystems are likely to disappear entirely. Aspen trees are already growing 200 metres higher up mountain slopes as they take advantage of that vanishing habitat.

Overall precipitation is likely to increase, but only in the spring and fall, leading to shoulder-season floods and summer droughts.

“Almost none of the future scenarios include sufficient increases in precipitation to compensate for the drying effect of warmer temperatures,” the report says.

“The worst-case future scenario for the Prairie provinces is the reoccurrence of consecutive years of severe drought, such as those that occurred in the 1930s.”

Some impacts are already here in the form of extreme weather events.

The report says 13 of the 20 most costly weather-related disasters since 1983, when record-keeping began, happened on the Prairies. Recent research suggests climate change has increased the risk of extreme fires in Western Canada by a factor of between 1.5 and 6.

“These events occurred with somewhat greater severity because they were occurring in a warmer climate,” Sauchyn said.

The figures don’t tell the whole story. Droughts, which don’t show up in tallies of insured losses, have cost billions of dollars in lost or unplanted crops.

In years with adequate rainfall, some crops are predicted to do well under climate change.

Spring wheat, the biggest crop in the West, could see yields increase anywhere from eight to 37 per cent in the next 50 years, depending on action against greenhouse gases. Canola, the second biggest crop, would be likely to decline by about the same amount.

Water management is going to become a critical issue, especially in the southern plains.

“There is some response (from governments), but it’s more of a reaction,” Sauchyn said. “What we advocate is more proactive, more of a planning approach.”

He suggested governments should be cautious of new, water-intensive industries planned for southern watersheds, such as the renewed push for coal mining in southern Alberta.

“Any kind of development has to be viewed through a climate change lens,” Sauchyn said.

“It just seems due diligence these days that any kind of a proposal be evaluated for its climate risks. If I was a shareholder in a mining company, I would want to know if there’s sufficient water in the future.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2020.

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Climate change

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Eighteen inmates and four staff at Red Deer Remand Centre have tested positive for COVID-19. Advocate file photo
Red Deer Remand Centre up to 22 COVID cases

Eighteen inmates and four remand centre staff areactive COVID cases

Christine Cornelius, department manager at Parkland Nurseries and Garden Centre, prepares seed racks at the Red Deer County shop. (By SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Central Alberta gardeners already buying seeds to prepare for spring

Potatoes and carrots popular choices for backyard gardens

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Red Deer’s newest Waskasoo Park trail offers some bird’s-eye views of the city. It runs along the Highland Green escarpment, between Howarth Street Close and 60th Street. More information is available on reddeer.ca. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
PHOTO: New Red Deer trail offers hikers a bird’s-eye view

It links Howarth Street Close with 60th Street

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is resigning. The news comes as… Continue reading

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

Canes’ season paused, while Caps play on without 4 regulars

Canes’ season paused, while Caps play on without 4 regulars

Team Stecklein forward Allie Thunstrom (9) shoots against Team Szabados goalie Shannon Szabados in the NWHL All-Star Hockey Game Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Humphrey
NWHL expansion Toronto Six head to Lake Placid women’s hockey bubble

NWHL expansion Toronto Six head to Lake Placid women’s hockey bubble

United States defender Aaron Long (23) and Canada forward Lucas Cavallini (19) battle for the ball during second half of CONCACAF Nations League soccer action in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Canadian men’s soccer team returns to action on weekend with scrimmage against U.S.

Canadian men’s soccer team returns to action on weekend with scrimmage against U.S.

FC Dallas forward Fafa Picault, left, steps into a kick as Nashville SC midfielder Alistair Johnston (12) defends during the first half of an MLS soccer match, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. A dozen Canadians are available in Thursday's slimmed-down MLS SuperDraft, reduced to three rounds from four this year. While the draft is not the pipeline it once was, the success of players like Johnston, taken 11th overall last year by expansion Nashville SC, show there are still success stories.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Whitecaps go international with Nigerian forward, Jamaican defender in MLS SuperDraft

Whitecaps go international with Nigerian forward, Jamaican defender in MLS SuperDraft

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Report on Quebec woman murdered by offender on day parole calls for better oversight

Report on Quebec woman murdered by offender on day parole calls for better oversight

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fauci unleashed: Doc takes ‘liberating’ turn at centre stage

Fauci unleashed: Doc takes ‘liberating’ turn at centre stage

A man wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver Wednesday, November 18, 2020.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Manitoba eases measures as COVID cases decline, but feds warn of severe illness rise

Manitoba eases measures as COVID cases decline, but feds warn of severe illness rise

A Government of Canada sign sits in front of a Library and Archives Canada building next to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday Nov. 25, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal review of Access to Information law to take another year amid impatience

Federal review of Access to Information law to take another year amid impatience

Most Read