A changing winter season

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I recognize that Haliburton County Snowmobile Association president John Enright was joking when he said people should put white crayons in their freezers, wear their pyjamas inside out, and put spoons under their pillows, to bring snow to the Highlands.

And I respect that Sir Sam’s Ski/Ride owner Doug Wilkinson says the winter-yet-to-come is part of his industry, that he takes it in stride because there’s nothing he can do about it, and that it’s not all doom and gloom. He is staying optimistic.

I think Yours Outdoors owner Barrie Martin is the one hitting the proverbial nail on the head, when he says that in the longer-term, winter tourism is going to be an endangered species in Haliburton County due to climate change. He anticipates that, one day, we will have five months of November-like weather. He’s worried about the impact of climate change on winter tourism in the future.

And, from what County climate change co-ordinator Korey McKay has had to say in her reports over the past couple of years, he is right to be worried. All of us should be.

Let’s look at some excerpts for McKay’s report on our greenhouse gas inventory and climate projections.

• As the global average temperature increases, the County of Haliburton will see higher average temperatures and more extreme heat. The average annual temperature could increase by over 4°C toward the end of the century. Higher average temperatures will result in warmer summers and milder winters.

• Climate projections for our region from the Climate Atlas of Canada, based on a business-as-usual scenario where global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, would see the average winter temperature increase by 5.2°C toward the end of the century. We may see an additional 45 mm of winter precipitation toward the end of the century.

• The County is also predicted to see more variable weather conditions and extreme weather due to increased energy in the atmosphere from higher temperatures. This results in more storms, including ice storms, snowstorms, and thunderstorms.
While McKay’s report speaks to the end of the century, we are already seeing evidence of this climate change trend. We had the big dump at Christmas, followed by the big freeze in the early new year. As I sit to write this column, on Jan. 9 at 5:15 p.m., it is 0 C outside. There is a freezing rain warning.

When we further look at excerpts from McKay’s Corporate Climate Change Adaptation Plan, she comments that the impacts of increased temperatures will mean more mild winters that may lead to winter melts causing disruption to outdoor events and programming for winter-based recreation.

To this end, she suggests continuing to communicate weather dependency when planning for events that depend on snowpack and consider developing alternative programming for low snowpack conditions.

In other words, we are past putting crayons in freezers, wearing our pyjamas backwards and putting spoons under our pillows.
McKay says the impacts we will experience in the future depend on global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So, we are at the mercy of forces outside of our County. But, locally, it means those who plan traditional winter tourism activities in the Highlands have to plan ahead and pivot in future.