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Record-high temperatures in N.L. should ‘sound alarm bells’ for other climate impacts, says climatologist | CBC News

A park filled with people sitting on picnic tables.
Newfoundland and Labrador is experiencing intense heat this week. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Hot and humid weather felt across Newfoundland and Labrador this week is part of a growing trend that one climatologist says will incur serious consequences. 

Memorial University climatologist Joel Finnis told CBC News Thursday this week’s hot weather, which broke humidex records in parts of the island, is part of a shift that has been noticed over the last couple of years.

“It’s much more common to get extended periods of high temperature like we’re seeing now,” Finnis said.

Based in St. John’s, Finnis said there have only been four days in July, so far, that were below 20 C and quite a few days that were above 25 C.

“Based on the long-term forecast, it looks like that’s going to go on for the foreseeable future,” he said.

“You take a look at stretches of very warm conditions like that, you recognize it happened the year before as well, you start to realize that things are shifting toward much warmer summers. That has a lot of consequences.”

Those effects include changes to pest and tree environments, the condition of ground cover and sea ice melt. 

Melting sea ice is the biggest noticeable shift, Finnis said, adding that has been raising alarms for him for a long time.

“That sea ice is disappearing in the Labrador sea relatively quickly and, frankly, across the entire Arctic sea ice loss is well ahead of schedule, relative to what climate models said we should be expecting,” he said.

“We’re talking decades of where we thought it would be, and that leaves us recognizing that some parts of the environment and climate system, and earth system overall, are changing faster than we’re anticipating, which really should … sound alarm bells for us in terms of other changes, too.”

A splash pad in a playground with kids running through spraying water.
Climatologist Joel Finnis says it’s time to reevaluate how we live in cities built for the cold. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Extreme weather events are becoming more common in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Finnis points to Hurricane Fiona, which decimated communities along the southwest coast of Newfoundland in September, along with heavy rain on snow events witnessed on the west coast that caused severe and sudden flooding. 

“It’s things like those high wind events, it’s things like those heavy precipitation events, those rain or snow events as well, that I think are going to have a bigger impact on us overall than some of these heat waves,” he said.

That’s not to say the province shouldn’t prepare for future heat. 

Finnis said high temperatures, like those experienced this week, should tell us we need to think about how we operate in our environment, cities and workplaces.

“We can’t live and work in the cities that we’ve built for a cold environment in the same way if we’re starting to hit long stretches of hot weather,” he said.

“We need to adjust our activities. It really is a stark reminder for me that we need to adapt, accommodate and change how we interact with this environment.”

He said changes have been happening, slowly, gradually and consistently, and embedded with other events happening at the same time. 

He points to Canada as a whole, where record-breaking temperatures are being experienced across the country, as well as the U.K., Europe and the United States. 

“It’s hard to ignore anymore,” he said. “It’s not that the changes are necessarily new, it’s that we’re just really starting to pay attention because of some of these extreme events.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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