Climate change causing extreme weather on the prairies

REGINA – A researcher at the U of R is leading a $2.5 million research project on climate change, the only one of its kind in western Canada. Tuesday, to coincide with Earth Day, he released preliminary research on how global warming is affecting the prairies.

The trend is to see more flooding, droughts, and hail storms. Three years into a five year study, the project called VACEA – Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Extremes in the Americas looks at the impact of a warming climate on rural communities in Saskatchewan, Alberta and South America.

“Some of the climate changes are actually quite favourable if you farm and ranch. (There’s) a longer growing season – a warmer growing season,” said Dr. Sauchyn.

However, any advantages can be offset by more frequent extreme weather events. Ph. D students are currently conducting hundreds of interviews and have been welcomed into people’s homes because the topic is an emotional one.

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“It hits home very quickly and the most recent events obviously are fresh in people’s minds – what they went through and how they had to overcome these events,” said Phd student researcher, Jessica Vanstone.

“We noticed that many people, for example in southwestern Saskatchewan rely on their relations between neighbours, what we call their ‘social capital,'” explained Dr. Amber Fletcher, a post-doctoral research fellow.

One common example was in the case of grass fires.

“For many rural people, help is a very long time in coming if there’s a wildfire, which moves very quickly and so we found that neighbours often rely on each other,” said Dr. Fletcher.

“The problem is there are fewer and fewer people in rural Saskatchewan and your neighbours are much further away now then they used to be,” added Dr. Sauchyn. “As we expect there to be serious storms and floods and droughts, governments have to take that into account. They have to step in and create programs that help people.”

The researchers want to provide practical information. The study will compare in detail how communities here in Saskatchewan and around the world are coping with the effects of climate change and what they can learn from each other.

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