Dealing with the new normal

Rousing the Rabble column by Roy Ronaghan, Oct. 14 Grand Forks Gazette

“This is not normal.”

I heard the statement many times during conversations about temperatures in the low 40s on the Celsius scale and a lack of rain across the region for several months. My counter questions were: “What is normal? “What are you using as your measure?”

Ask anyone who talks about what is normal and what is not to define the term and they will have difficulty doing so. When talking about the weather they will make comparisons with what they remember from their childhood or a couple decades ago. However, memories are never completely accurate. Unless they are willing to pore over weather statistics, what other measure do they have?

Were the conditions that prevailed across the watershed an anomaly or an indication of our future climate? Scientists tell us that they are a preview of what the future holds.

There are many questions about climate and weather patterns locally, regionally and worldwide to ponder, given the changes that are taking place with less than a degree of warming of the biosphere. Regionally we might ask whether future winters will be similar to the winter of 2014-15, whether we can expect more forest fires in Boundary Country during summers to come, and whether spring rainfalls will become a rarity. Answers to such questions are impossible to answer because nobody knows.

In an article in a Sept. 19, 2012 issue of the Guardian, Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner for climate action, stated, “In short, climate change and weather extremes are not about a distant future. Formerly one-off extreme weather episodes seem to be becoming the new normal. Weather extremes are not extremes any more. Heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires are the new reality of an ever warming world.” Hedegaard has been proven right many times in the past three years since she made the statement.

Courtney White, a former archaeologist and a professed daydreamer recently posted an essay called Little Normals on the Resilience.org website. In her paper White asks whether anything in the 21st century can be considered normal. She talks mainly about the nature and scale of national economies. She asks, “…do they fall within some range of variation for “normal” human activity?”

The phrase “new normal” was widely spread by the bond investing giant, Pacific Investment Management Co. (Pimco) in 2009 to describe the stall in the economy that occurred in 2008. The company is now using the term “the new neutral” to describe sub par economic recovery. The term may never apply to climate change unless something spectacular occurs.

What will constitute the “new normal” weather in Boundary Country? We have no way of knowing what future weather patterns anywhere in Canada will be different because of the multitude of variables that must be considered. Extremes will be common and they will likely become the pattern.

A best guess for the watershed may be a repeat of the winter of 2014-15. Winters will be milder, have less snow and more rain. Spring rains will be fewer or nonexistent. Summers will be hotter and drier. Fall weather will be an extension of summer weather but with lower temperatures.

If that is what we are given our challenge will be how to handle the summer weather. How resilient will we be?

Remember the old adage, “We can talk about the weather, but there isn’t much we can do about it.” It is not as true today as it was decades ago. We know that we are contributing to the problem with our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and in so doing we are slowly and surely exacerbating the situation but we continue to live a lifestyle that is dependent on burning fossil fuels.

Should the weather patterns experienced in 2015-2016 be a copy of what was experienced in 2014-2015, what statements will be used to describe them? They will be unusual because we have entered a new era of weather patterns that are unpredictable.