Calgary has been plunged into a serious deep freeze caused by an unwelcome Arctic polar vortex that has strayed from its usual location way up north. An Arctic polar vortex is a large pocket of cold air at the North Pole, enclosed by winds, and they thankfully usually stay where they have originated. It’s likely there will be records broken for cold temperatures throughout the province.
This cold snap follows many months of milder-than-usual temperatures, but however nice it has been experts are warning that the weather is a bad harbinger of things to come. It was a very dry (and hot) summer, which helped to fuel a massive wildfire season that started very early. In May there were more than 100 wildfires raging throughout the province, with 36 of those considered to be burning uncontrollably. That resulted in close to 30,000 Alberta residents being evacuated from their homes. Later in the summer, several more wildfires caused even more evacuations in B.C. and Alberta. According to Global News, Alberta saw more land burn than ever before this fire season, with more than two-million hectares scorched. That is an area equivalent to about 31 times the size of Edmonton.
Owners of rural properties take note: you can greatly slow down a wildfire with firesmart landscaping.
As we take stock of all that happened in 2023 we can better predict what is still to come, and many are worried it could get worse.
2023 hottest year on record, December unusually warm and dry
Last year was the hottest year on record, with the global average temperature reaching 14.98 degrees Celsius, the highest recorded since data collection began in 1850. These results were presented in the European climate agency Copernicus’ annual report. July and August 2023 were the hottest months ever recorded globally, with the whole year about 1.48 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels.
Previously the hottest year on record was 2016.
December was also extremely warm. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the daily mean average for both daytime and nighttime temperatures was 0.1 degrees Celsius. The normal is usually minus 6.8 degrees Celsius. After more than 141 years of data collection it was the warmest December on record in Calgary.
With these warmer temperatures and two years in a row of low amounts of snowfall has come a word Albertans are unfortunately quite familiar with: drought.
Last summer the City of Calgary enacted water restrictions with water preservation in mind. The Government of Alberta has officially declared a drought, with the tiny snowpack leading to less runoff filling rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. The City’s water restrictions are meant to help keep Glenmore Reservoir nice and full in anticipation of the same thing happening again this year.
Alberta is currently in water shortage management stage 4 (out of 5). Multiple water management areas are impacted by the water shortage, especially in the southern areas of the province.
In the past 120 years, five major droughts have occurred across the Canadian Prairies. Starting in 1929 with the “Dust Bowl”, multi-year droughts also occurred in the 1980s and the early 2000s. The government has already issued a request for proposal to enhance drought modelling and help the province prepare for 2024. There is a drought command team in place and the first draft of an emergency plan for 2024 has been completed. Some predict impending restrictions on when you can do your laundry and when you can wash your dishes because of water supply.
What is coming next?
Drought is terrible news for the province’s farmers and could lead to an agricultural disaster, says City News. Since it has been quite dry for a few years in a row, there are already very low soil moisture levels that are only getting worse year after year. Alberta may need to consider more reservoirs to hold water for longer periods of time and implement water diversion efforts in order to keep the agriculture industry up and operational.
With the lack of water comes the risk of:
- Flooding due to the rise in sea levels.
- Lakes and canals drying up and threatening shipping routes.
- Intense heatwaves.
What does this mean for your landscaping?
There’s a lot you can do to help along your landscaping when there is a water shortage. We recommend drought-resistant plants when designing our landscapes, examples of which include: Cherry Prinsepia, Golden Flowering Currant, Genista, Hackberry, Honeysuckle, Juniper, Potentilla, Sea Buckthorn, Sumac, Ash, Buffaloberry, Pine and Pincherry.