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PAINFUL TRUTH: What is normal weather?

No one alive now actually remembers ‘normal’ weather in this province
Six months ago it was heavy snow and freezing rain and a miserable winter. Now we’re trading cool and rainy for a mini-heat wave. (Langley Advance Times files)

Growing up in Langley, I could look north in mid-summer, and there was still usually a bit of snow left on Golden Ears, especially between the peaks, where the shadows lingered.

Over the past 20 years, there’s been less and less snow every summer, sometimes disappearing by the end of spring.

It’s a personal marker of climate change for me.

Of course, this year, the snow held on a lot longer than has been usual of late.

By this time last year, we had already been through months of above-average temperatures, and were about to be hammered with the heat dome that would kill hundreds of people. I recall stepping out of the office onto the parking lot and feeling the heat on the surface of my eyeballs.

This year, we got the opposite. Instead of heat, we’ve got below-average temps. Instead of crops literally cooking on the vine, we’re worried it’s too cold and damp for much to grow.

A powerful La Nina system is dumping cool and wet weather on us.

But this is closer to “normal” weather for the coast than what we’ve experienced for the last 20 years.

Go back to the late 19th and early 20th century, and things really were cooler. According to provincial data, B.C. is up about 1.4°C per century since 1900. Winters in particular are milder, rising 2.2°C on average, with variations across the province.

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Meanwhile, the region that includes the Lower Mainland has seen a 14 per cent increase in precipitation.

That data is a few years old. After the roller-coaster of the past two years, with its record-breaking heat, cold, and rain coming on each other’s heels, they might have to update the charts a bit.

We’re seeing more extremes in B.C., it seems. When it’s dry and hot, it’s going to set off forest fires and heat alerts, when it’s cold and wet, it’s going to soak and chill us even more.

Yet I can’t help but notice that the weather this year isn’t all bad.

Not great for a lot of berry crops, sure, awful for orchards, probably pretty crummy for potatoes.

But mild temperatures and plenty of rain are pretty good for a lot of native plants. The weather we’ve had this year is closer to the what was normal for this area before humans started burning coal and oil on a massive scale a century and a half ago.

But there is no normal, not anymore.

This year might be followed by one that’s hot and dry. Or cool and dry, or hot with sudden storms. Maybe we’ll get a typhoon next, or another tornado like the waterspout last year that touched down just off of UBC.

If we knew what was normal, we might be able to better plan for the future, for our forest fire prevention needs, for agriculture, for flood prevention and disaster response.

But we broke normal. Climate change isn’t some abstract thing that’s going to happen in the future, it’s here now.

The weather we grew up with wasn’t quite normal. Our future weather will be even less so.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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