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Wildfire Ranger with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Jason McAleenan, part of a strike team, puts out hot-spots near the site of the point of origin for the fire around Slave Lake, Alberta on May 19, 2011. (Jimmy Jeong/Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com)
Wildfire Ranger with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Jason McAleenan, part of a strike team, puts out hot-spots near the site of the point of origin for the fire around Slave Lake, Alberta on May 19, 2011. (Jimmy Jeong/Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com)

The societal costs of extreme weather Add to ...

Wildfires

Crews in B.C., Manitoba and Alberta are already busy this week fighting wildfires. A First Nations community in British Columbia has been put on evacuation alert, about a dozen people have been forced from their homes in Manitoba, and RCMP on Tuesday asked people to leave several homes in Alberta. Warmer, drier conditions mean more fires are inevitable. B.C. is no stranger to such blazes – it spent nearly $600-million fighting wildfires in 2009 and 2010 combined. Of those 4,700-plus fires, two-thirds were caused by lightning strikes on dry soil.

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Droughts

“This is nothing new for the Prairies,” says Brett Anderson, expert senior meteorologist with the weather forecasting service AccuWeather. “When you don't have any moisture in the ground, every day when that sun comes up, it doesn't have to go to work evaporating water. If there's no moisture in the ground, all that sunshine just goes to heating the ground.”

Drowning

While the number of people who drown in Canada has historically been trending downwards over the past 20 years, recent years have had an increase. One reason for this, according to the 2011 National Drowning report, is that warmer, drier weather since 2005 brings more people onto the water. “You see more people taking advantage of the weather and doing things they shouldn't be doing,” says David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

Vehicle accidents

“It's often the fair weather in which you see more accidents,” Mr. Phillips said. “With bad weather, they're being a little bit more cautious. Speed is up with fair weather.”

Air pollution

The warm weather could lead to air pollution in certain parts of the country, Mr. Phillips said. Environment Canada defines air pollution as any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. “That could create issues with regards to air pollution with more smog days,” he said, pointing to B.C.'s Lower Mainland, as well as the corridor from Windsor, Ont., to Quebec City.

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