Climate change: Up way too close and personal

Photo by Josh Hild on

We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.

David Suzuki

Last week, we endured one of the most bizarre winter storms ever seen on the Canadian prairies. Unusually warm weather has been with us since the new year, almost unheard of in the month of January which normally is referred to as “frigid”. Our day began with rain, lots of it, coating everything in ice as the day progressed and winds picked up and snow began to fall. This arctic blast continued to escalate as day became evening and soon the wind outside our house began to sound like a freight train.

Winds battered houses, toppled trees, mangled traffic lights, wreaked havoc on outbuildings in rural areas, and culminated in a province wide power outage. Meterologists who measure wind speed gave this particulate blizzard an EF-1 wind rating normally used for tornadoes. There were hundreds of stranded drivers on highways across the province and many accidents. Given our hospitals are full of people with COVID-19, it was incredibly fortunate that there were no serious injuries.

But the power outages lasted for hours and hours as the winds continued to howl and blow with phenomenal speed rendering it impossible for anyone to fix the lines. Our power company claimed that “galloping lines” were to blame, meaning power lines were blown into each other with many toppled and exploding. Hour after hour, homes became colder and colder as the day progressed and the storm continued to rage on.

Those of us living on the Canadian prairies routinely experience the wrath of mother nature especially during the months of January and February. Usually temperatures this time of the year are bitterly cold and any amount of wind results in what is known as “windchill” which can result in frostbite within minutes. So we are not strangers to harsh weather where your nostrils typically feel like they are melded together when you venture outside and lack of moisture content in the air makes your skin dry and peel.

But this weather system seemed markedly different. Arctic blasts with lots of snow, and whiteout wind conditions knocking out part of our power grid has definitely happened before. But this one seemed so unusual. Rain coating everything on the Canadian prairie is not typical. Nor are winds sustained at tornado levels for more than a few hours rendering it impossible to restore electricity and power.

Hours dragged on with no way to contact the power company and no way to know how long houses would be without electricity. Rows of houses sat silent, and dark, and growing increasingly cold as day became another night. A global pandemic with escalating active cases meant not many places for people to go and warm up. You’d think this would be a wake up call for all of us. How could we live on the cold, Canadian prairie without the means to heat our homes.

These types of weather events have increased in the past few years around the globe but the strangeness of this storm should help quell the rhetoric from the local climate change deniers. At least until the spring. Then we will like see a resurgence of protests against carbon taxes, green initiatives, and demands that more resources go into the fossil fuel sector. Good grief!

One can only hope that following the pandemic, we turn our collective attention to climate change and begin to pay heed to what nature is demanding we work to reverse. This storm was an awfully unpleasant wake up call that was too close for comfort. Let’s hope we move to action to reverse or at the very least, halt the devastation that we have done to our planet.

Stay healthy and safe!

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