Lacombe County is expected to get warmer and drier with a Lethbridge-like growing season as a result of climate change.
That could mean more pests and water shortages as well as setting the stage for more frequent and increasingly damaging extreme events such as floods, wildfires, hail, wind, snow and rain storms.
On the positive side, a warming trend would lengthen growing seasons and provide more recreation and tourism opportunities because summers will be longer and snow sport season hit less often by extreme cold snaps. Warmer winters mean less home heating and all of the environmental impacts of creating the necessary, electricity, natural gas or fuel.
County staff recently sat down with representatives from the Alberta government and environmental groups in a workshop led by All One Sky Foundation to review the potential impact of climate change and consider what to do about it. Lacombe County was one of seven communities participating this year in the Climate Resilience Express project, aimed at developing action plans in response to climate projections.
Climate data collected through stations in Calmar, Camrose, Lacombe and Olds indicate from 1917-2016 the mean annual temperature in Lacombe County has risen by 1.2 C – about 50 per cent higher than the global warming rate over that period.
The biggest temperature changes happened in the winter from December to February.
Mean annual precipitation has declined by 21 mm over the past century, according to the data. However, precipitation is up over the past 50 years, a trend expected to continue through the 2050s, mostly because of more snowfall.
As global temperatures increase, the atmosphere can hold more water creating more intense storms and precipitation events, such as the 2013 floods in southern Alberta.
“Consequently, it is very likely that Lacombe County will see more extreme precipitation events as the climate continues to warm in the coming decades,” read a report to council.
Despite the increased precipitation in Central Alberta, the area is expected to get drier overall. Precipitation in the summer months is expected to decline slightly and warmer temperatures will increase evaporation extended over a longer growing season.
The report read, “the average growing season in Lacombe County by the middle of the century will be more like the growing season experienced around Lethbridge, Alta., in today’s climate.”
County environmental co-ordinator Jennifer Berry said a lot of information that came out of the climate resilience work can be incorporated and used to update future county initiatives.
“There are some action items. A lot of the stuff are things we had already ongoing or things that are already in the planning process,” said Berry Monday.
Initiatives proposed, such as working with local residents and groups to promote water, wetland and farmland conservation and updating plans to prevent and fight wildfires will find their way into the county’s Strategic Plan. That plan provides an overall road map for future county planning.
Given the global climate changes at work the focus is on responding to change that is likely inevitable.
“This is more about making yourself resilient to it rather than mitigation or adaptation strategies.”