Recent downpours not enough to green things up 0
When it rains, it pours, is not just a weather cliche anymore.
Ontarians are noticing more downpours of rain that come and go in a matter of minutes, but fewer genuinely rainy days that give our parched ground what it really needs – moisture that sinks in and stays.
David Phillips, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, says there isn’t years of data to prove the rains/pours argument – just a variation on weather forecasting to rely upon.
“It’s precisely what scientists are suggesting we are going to see a lot of in the future, these gully washers. We’re going to see when it rains, it will rain in a heavier dose,” he said. “In all of the climate scenarios of the future, that’s clearly the one thing they all talk about.
“It’s because the atmosphere is warmer. It can hold more moisture, and so there’s the potential to have these flooding, car-washing rainfalls where the clouds open up and you just get a cloud-burst and then all of a sudden you don’t see rain for three weeks.”
When Ontario does get summer rain, however, it hasn’t done much good.
Phillips pointed to Toronto’s July 15 rain storm. There was 88 millimetres of rain in Scarborough, 41 mm at Toronto Island, 5 mm at Pearson International Airport, 12 mm in Richmond Hill and nothing in Oshawa.
“That rainfall last Sunday did nobody any good, because it fell in two hours and it just ran off and created flooding issues in Toronto,” he said. “That 88 mm, even over the parched fields of Simcoe County, would have run off. It would have been some help, clearly. You wish for something, even if it was a gully washer. What you really need, and we need desperately in Ontario, is the kind of a rainfall that would spoil your holiday. That kind of slow motion, percolating, drenching rain that has a chance to get through that concrete ground.”
Phillips said the other thing about summer precipitation is that it’s very spotty and localized.
“It can rain in your front yard, but not in your backyard,” he said.
Phillips says the number of rainy days in the summer hasn’t changed much, just the type of rain Ontario is getting.
It’s heavy, a downpour, a severe storm – and it happens quickly.
“It’s hard to prove it, but clearly the physics are there to explain it, he said. “That is, when it does warm up, the atmosphere can hold more moisture. About a one-degree warming and it can hold about 7% more moisture.
“The potential is there to get a big gully washer, a big dump of rain from that system. But then it takes a while for nature, for the atmosphere, to recharge itself. So these little dribs and drabs (of rain) just really aren’t in the cards.”
Phillips said, in the future, storage of water will be crucial.
“When it does rain, you take advantage of it, because you may not see it for a while,” he said.
Phillips says it’s not a contradiction to suggest that in the future we’ll see droughts and floods in the same season - because it won’t rain as often, but when it does, there will be more of it.
“When it rains, you’re going to get a lot more rain; there’s going to be street flooding and intersection flooding,” he said. “That’s why the infrastructure has to be different in the future to be able to stand this kind of an almost tropical rainfall.”
But Phillips says it’s not only the lack of rainfall, and the type of rainfall, that Ontario is receiving.
“At the same time we are seeing extremely torrid temperatures, well, well above normal and very hot, a lot of days above 30,” he said. “When you have that double-whammy, the sun comes out and there’s very little cloud and it’s just baking the ground.
“It looks like a drought, it sounds like a drought. When you walk on the grass in Barrie, it sounds like Rice Krispies, you know, snap, crackle and pop.”
But it’s not residential lawns and gardens, or even city parks, which suffer most from little rainfall and hot temperatures.
Our farmers take the brunt of it. “It’s not good. We’ve just been so dry and so hot for so long. Farmers tell me that this is the crucial time (for rain),” Phillips said. “What would be even more cruel is if they got all their rain in August when they don’t need it. They need the rain now.
“I think we are really underestimating the significance of this dryness.”
And there’s no discernible relief in sight.
“Sometimes, you know, the weather just gets stuck in a groove. It takes a lot of energy to switch things around and what happens is you just get a period where day after day, it’s just like summer re-runs,” Phillips said.
“It’s almost as if nature has forgotten how to rain over us. We’re stuck in this kind of no-weather zone. It’s not good.”
Just like nature, Phillips says there needs to be a balance to the weather as well.
“You don’t want too much weather, and you don’t want too little weather. You want just enough weather to make everything normal. Things exist based on normal weather,” he said. “We’re just not seeing it. We’re just not seeing enough weather, and that’s creating problems.
Many Simcoe County municipalities have open air burning bans as a result — Innisfil, Collingwood, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Penetanguishene, New Tecumseth, Adjala Tosorontio and the townships of Clearview, Essa, Tay, Springwater, Oro-Medonte, Severn and Tiny. Barrie does not have a burning ban, but the the only outdoor fires allowed are in Chimineas, which require a permit.
This weekend’s Environment Canada forecast is for warm sunny weather with a few clouds. There’s a 40% chance of rain Monday, 30% on Tuesday but 60% on both Wednesday and Thursday.