Weather Whys, March 24, 2013

Marchuary is almost over
Almost everyone has been comparing this year’s weather with one year ago. Yes, it is different. Barbequing outdoors and turning over your garden would be quite silly this year. Record afternoon temperatures in the low 20s C – it was easy to take. The exceptional early start to spring had some consequences for vegetation, especially spruce trees, but they don’t talk much.

March has been colder with some moderate snowfalls; hints of typical January conditions. Most readers know that recent weather is not so remarkable. There is another week in this month but my guess is that this March will go into the record books as the 17th coldest March in Thunder Bay since 1941 – a bit of a yawn, even for weather nerds.

It looks likely that the next week will feature seasonal temperatures. Daytime highs above the freezing mark, relatively dry air and bright sunshine will reduce the winter snowpack fairly quickly. This melting adds moisture to the lower part of the atmosphere and morning fog and/snow flurries could be a result. The bigger situation includes an almost stationary ridge of high pressure over central North America.

Such “blocking ridge” situations are fairly common at this time of the year. Little or no precipitation is likely and the daily swings from cold nights to well above melting temperature are typical. Even though the balmy conditions of last spring are very unlikely, rivers will be in flow over the next two weeks and Lake Superior will make a hesitant recovery from its annual minimum level set a week ago.

Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron continue a 14-year period of below average water levels, the longest in recorded history. Spring runoff will increase water levels somewhat but the blocking ridge mentioned above is of concern for commercial and recreational navigation.

The Lake Superior level is low but not as critical as Michigan-Huron but the Great Lakes system operates with interdependent ports. Lakes Michigan-Huron have the most problems with water levels just above record lows. Many recreational harbours are affected and one harbour is currently closed to commercial navigation. Ships will have to continue to carry lighter loads, with significant economic impacts if any part of their voyage requires passage through Lake Michigan-Huron.

April Fools and the Harper government
The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) is scheduled to be officially closed by the Federal government on April 1. The ELA has been featured by regional and national media as this surreal closure approaches. This scientific research area between Vermillion Bay and Kenora has been in operation since 1968. The list of benefits that have resulted is considerable: causes and effects of acid rain, mercury and its movement through the food chain, linkages between toxic chemicals and human health are a few.

Researchers work at various lakes, publish results that influence water and air quality policies in many countries and, as a consequence focus world attention on our region.

Health benefits for humans and various fisheries in this country and abroad, an international reputation for Canada and economic benefit for the Northwest region — the proposed closure has to invite questions of why?

Dr. Carol Kelly a scientist with a long-term research project that assesses long range atmospheric transport of heavy metals and related toxins is one of many scientists making comments. Kelly notes that the Conservative government prefers vague answers that allow them to question scientific findings, making it easier to advance their resource development agenda.

Toxins from Alberta oil sand promotion are known to compromise air and water quality in that province and Saskatchewan. Some argue that the revenue generated justifies this development. Imagine that long-term evidence revealed that emissions from the oil sands reached into Ontario and more distant areas.

The ELA with pristine lakes and long-term records could offer a valuable baseline for risk assessment for continued expansion of the oil sands and related pipelines. Halting of information from the ELA would result in “vague answers” in the future.

The Harper government has an international reputation for muzzling scientists and suppressing research. The ELA is part of this scenario and it is connected to other policies related to research of the Great Lakes. A high-profile source inside Environment Canada stated the following: “Environment Canada conducts monitoring to determine atmospheric loadings of toxic pollutants over and to the Great Lakes. The Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN) is history. They continue to take samples and stick them in the freezer. They will not be analysed.”

Dr. Brian Moss, president of an international society that studies lakes and coastal waterways, stated in a recent interview that only totalitarian governments would suppress scientific information in this manner.