The climate crisis is already harming the most vulnerable in our society: the working poor, seniors, and single mothers to name a few who have fewer social and financial resources to protect themselves from extreme events like heat waves or floods. We all know someone affected by spring and winter flooding on the St. John River, or storm surges and erosion on our coasts. Heatwaves from Bathurst to St. Andrews are harming our health and crops. Power outages in winter and summer put our safety and food at risk.
Extreme weather in New Brunswick
From the recent record-breaking flooding along the St. John River, the 2017 Ice Storm, Hurricanes Arthur and Dorian, to the heat waves, drought and low river levels we saw this summer, we feel the effects of climate change in our communities.
You can read about the impact extreme weather is having on New Brunswickers’ physical and mental health in our 2019 series, After the flood. Looking for a deeper dive? See how acting on climate change will also make New Brunswick communities healthier, mentally and physically, in our 2019 report, Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers. Do you have a climate change story to tell? You can help our research by sharing it with us.
What difference does a degree or two make?
We’re all sensitive to changes in temperature. Too hot or too cold and we’re just not comfortable. It’s the same with the natural world. In New Brunswick, and Canada, we have warmed at more than double the global rate over the last 70 years: almost two degrees of warming compared to about 1 degree Celsius globally. Sounds like a small increase, doesn’t it? What most of us don’t realize is that it takes a vast amount of heat to warm the oceans, land and air by one degree.
Global heating is causing big changes to the weather. Weather patterns are changing. Weather is becoming extreme. Hotter air absorbs more water, fueling more intense storms that release more rainfall or snow. Flooding disrupts our lives and contaminates soil. Heat waves harm our health. Drought makes it harder to get a good crop and lowers the nutrient value of our food. Hotter temperatures increase the risk of disease from ticks and mosquitoes.
Click the text below to see how the climate (the long-term average of weather) has changed in New Brunswick since 1970:
Hotter: Double the level of average warming globally
The Government of New Brunswick reports that temperatures in our province have increased by 1.5°C relative to historical norms and seasonal temperatures have increased in all parts of the province. Most of this warming has occurred since the late 1970s. The level of warming in our province is similar to the average for the rest of Canada (1.7 degrees Celsius between 1948 and 2016) and it is a rate twice that of the global average.
Wetter: We are getting more rain and snow per precipitation event
Warmer air holds more moisture, meaning there can be more rain or snow when there is precipitation. All that heat is already increasing precipitation because 71 per cent of the Earth is ocean. Scientists calculate that for every one degree Celsius increase in temperature, the atmosphere can hold seven per cent more water. That extra water increases the volume of precipitation by one to two per cent per degree of warming.
More unpredictable: More floods, heatwaves, dry periods between extreme rain or snow events
- From 2000 to 2010, there were more extreme rainfall events (50 millimetres or more of rain over a 24-hour period) in Fredericton and Moncton than any other decade on record. Climate models project that New Brunswick will experience less frequent, but more intense, precipitation events, increasing the annual total precipitation throughout the province.
- The increase in annual precipitation can take the form of more snow, increasing snow depth and adding to spring freshet worries and flood risk. It can take the form of more winter rain-ice events causing winter flooding and ice jams and ice-on-snow cover making walking dangerous, especially for seniors.
- New Brunswick experienced record-breaking floods in 2018 and 2019, partly caused by an above average snowpack and rain partly due to a changing climate, but also by other factors such as land-use, and housing development in flood plains. It is getting hotter, wetter, extreme, and less safe because greenhouse gas levels are not where they need to be and we are not changing the way we do things.