Wildfire risk a concern as Canada’s weather agency releases dry winter forecast for Western Canada

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Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) released its winter outlook Friday morning as the agency is forecasting above average temperatures for Alberta and Western Canada.

The forecast takes into account the winter months between December and February 2024 which will see an El Niño weather pattern dominate over the pacific.

El Niño generally brings milder winters to the prairies.

The warmer-than-normal water affects the jet stream and weather patterns around the planet and often leads to milder and less snowy winters in Canada.

Officials with ECCC said their forecast models show “no clear signals for precipitation this winter” in Alberta.

The forecast also predicts a lower than normal snow pack in the mountains.

“We are predicting less snow than normal on the ground for Western Canada so that means lower than normal snow pack which could have implications for water resources in the spring,” said Nathan Gillett research scientist with ECCC.  “With less snow on the ground that’s going to tend to mean less water available.”

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“We have to remember that weather conditions are a doubled edged sword,” said Gerald Cheng, warning preparedness meteorologist with ECCC. “There are implications when we don’t have enough snowpack. If there’s a deep freeze and there’s no snowpack to insulate the crops, it’s a problem for farmers.

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“A lot of towns and cities are dependent on the tourism industry, so if there’s no snow that could be a problem for local businesses, on the other hand milder and less snowy winter could mean lower than normal heating and snow removal costs.”

Officials said long-range forecast models are also predicting above average temperatures next spring and while Gillett said it’s too early to predict the impact of that on wildfires, it does point to an increased risk for Alberta.

“We are predicting below average precipitation and a lower than normal snowpack so those factors might tend to increase the risk of wildfire in the spring,” Gillett said.

ECCC said the El Nino weather pattern was the main reason behind the forecast for above average temperatures in Alberta this winter but also blamed human induced climate change for winter temperatures warming over the past several decades.

The agency cited a 2019 report which showed human induced climate change as the main factor in observed warming of the planet between 1948 and 2012.

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