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From sea to shining sea, Canada is so devoid of rain this summer that it is facing what may be the worst national drought in history.

So far, the signs are that it may be even worse than the legendary summer of 1961, said David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist. "I can't recall a year when we had such an extensive drought across the country," he said.

In Victoria -- usually known as the Garden City -- residents are spray-painting their brown lawns green. In Calgary, the city is begging residents to water their own trees and those owned by the city to keep them alive. In Toronto, grass in the city parks has turned golden brown; newly planted trees are on the brink of death; the iconic maple trees are already losing their leaves, and it is only the second week of August.

Canadians are also witnessing the bizarre phenomenon of dry thunderstorms in an ink-black sky.

"What makes this dryness so unusual is that it tends to be almost from coast to coast," said Mr. Phillips, who tracks national trends for the country's weather service.

He has found that every part of Canada is afflicted with profound water deprivation except for a soggy swath running through southern Manitoba up to Thunder Bay, and in a chunk of northern British Columbia into Yukon. And where it is dry, it is horrid. In parts of the agricultural belt in Southern Ontario, farmers are getting less than a quarter of the rain they would expect. In some of the key land for corn and soybean crops, farmers have received only about 16 per cent of what they would normally get, counted from the first day of summer to now.

"And this is in a province where the climate is moderate and consistent and reliable," Mr. Phillips said.

Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Halifax and Charlottetown have had far less rain this July and August than normal. Even St. John's and Iqaluit are unusually dry.

Weirder still, climatologists don't see any changes coming. That's a special blow to Canadians who are used to having vastly different weather in different parts of the country. And who have become accustomed to dramatic changes in their local weather from one hour to the next. As Mr. Phillips puts it: If you don't like the weather out the front door, look out the back.

"This monotony is against our psyche as Canadians," he said. This summer's weather is almost tropical, he said. "It's so un-Canadian."

And it's disastrous for crops. The Prairies, suffering under the third straight year of drought, didn't have a chance for decent crops without rain. They didn't get it.

In June, the Alberta government declared a drought disaster, promising $93-million in relief for farmers and ranchers who were working a dust bowl that had swallowed most of the province.

By mid-August, the only thing that has changed is the level of desperation.

"After two years you have a hard time even paying that crop-insurance bill, let alone paying the other bills," said Howard Paulsen, who has a 460-acre farm near Stavely, Alta., about 100 kilometres south of Calgary.

Seven years ago, Mr. Paulsen broadened his farm into livestock from grain farming -- he now has 240 sheep and a handful of cattle -- but lack of moisture makes it tough to feed the animals.

The pastures are empty of anything to graze and his barley and hay crops barely poked their heads above ground.

"I've already spent $10,000 on feed and now I'm feeding them stuff that should be used in the winter time," Mr. Paulsen said. "You start doing that, there's no profit even in the livestock end of it."

Hot, dry weather has also hurt farmers in Saskatchewan. The province's latest crop forecast suggests production will drop 18 per cent below the 10-year average despite farmers seeding a record 35.7 million acres.

A University of Saskatchewan climatologist figures the drought could cost $3-billion in production losses in the province. The federal government has designated some parts of Saskatchewan as drought-affected, which will allow producers or breeders in those areas to defer part of their income tax for a year.

And while the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. said it's too soon to predict drought-related claims, the provincial farm-insurance agency said it has seen the number of preharvest appraisals jump to about 5,600 so far this season. That compares with about 3,300 last year.

"Certainly the poor moisture conditions would be a factor," said spokeswoman Gloria Visser-Niven.

The bone-dry weather has forced the Canadian Wheat Board, a government-owned marketing agency that holds a monopoly on Western Canadian wheat and barley exports, to lower its production forecasts for the current crop year.

Last week, the Wheat Board said it expected to see wheat drop to between 20 million and 21 million tonnes in the current crop year -- which ends July 31, 2002 -- down from 25.2 million tonnes produced in the last crop year.

Wheat Board officials estimated barley production would slide to 11 million tonnes, down from 12.6 million tonnes produced last year.

But while the growing season was over before it began in much of the Prairies, it was a gut-wrenchingly terrific start to the farming in Ontario. The temperatures were perfect. The rains came at precisely the right time. Farmers could almost feel the money in their pockets.

"You just couldn't have ordered a better season," said Mr. Phillips, the climatologist.

But the very day summer hit, things started to go wrong.

"It's so cruel," Mr. Phillips said.

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