Why snow is important to the local economy

Scientists have flagged the Canadian Prairies as possibly becoming a “climate change hotspot.”


Welcome to the first issue of The Flatlander. Thanks for being one of my early readers. You’re appreciated.

This newsletter is intended to essentially be the Coles Notes big picture overview of issues affecting Manitoba and Saskatchewan, a little like The Skimm or The Bullet, but more localized.

It is my hope The Flatlander will eventually start doing original journalism soon, but for now there’s this.

Let’s talk about the weather

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Since winter arrived on the Prairies last week and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) recently wrapped, I thought this issue will focus on why snow may be good for the economy; how that’s important to our pocketbooks; and keeps pasta on the shelves in Britain.

But first let’s remember our hot, hot summer with very little rain.

All of our farmland experienced drought. All of it.

Sixty-four per cent of Saskatchewan and 43 per cent of Manitoba faced moderate to exceptional drought conditions this summer, according to the NASA Earth Observatory. Basically, all of the agricultural land in the region.

Droughts are caused when there is no moisture in the soil, and there’s not enough snow and rain. Extremely high temperatures, like the ones recently experienced this summer, don’t help. We haven’t had a drought this bad since 1961.

As a result, this year’s grain harvest was not good. If Statistics Canada’s most recent crop production estimates come true, Canadian canola production will hit its lowest level in 13 years. Wheat harvests in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were also poor.

Blame the 2021 pasta shortage on the Canadian Prairies (in part, anyways)

Between drought conditions in Canada and heavy rains in Europe, there wasn’t much durum wheat, an important pasta ingredient, to be found anywhere. This meant pasta shelves in grocery stores in the United Kingdom were empty and consumers in France are spending more on spaghetti. Food costs are up here in Canada too because of low wheat yields, an increase in fuel prices, supply chain problems and other issues. A store in Alberta that imports pasta from Italy pays 20 per cent more for its inventory. Anecdotally, I’m not much of a pasta eater, but the price of the English muffins I regulary buy have gone up by more than 55 per cent at my local Walmart.

Purchasing meat is also more expensive. Cattle farmers had a tough go this summer too, as dry conditions meant feed was hard to come by. Some people made the choice to cull their herds, although rain at the end of August, in some parts of the prairies, helped because it meant cows could forage grass.

Snow can help save the day

I hate shoveling my driveway as much as the next person, but since the soil is dry, it shouldn’t freeze and the moisture provided from the snow should be absorbed into the ground.

The Prairies may become a climate change hotspot

Environment and Climate Change Canada has reported the country is warming, on average, about double the global rate, and scientists have flagged the Canadian Prairies as possibly becoming a “climate change hotspot.”

Extreme weather events of amplified severity will likely be the most challenging consequence of climate change in the Prairie Provinces. The impacts of flooding, drought and wildfire in recent years are unprecedented, and climate models suggest an increased risk of these events in the future.

The above is from the first available chapter of a report published last year by Natural Resources Canada. The rest of the chapters in the Canada in a Changing Climate: Regional Perspectives Report aren’t available as of yet.

The published Prairie chapter of the report goes onto say Western Canada has had “the strongest warming to date,” mainly in the winter, but this past summer 34 Saskatchewan communities and 19 in Manitoba shattered temperature records on Jul. 2. Saskatoon recorded the hottest temperature that day at 40 C.

What does climate change look like on the Prairies

Going back to the report by Natural Resource Canada, climate change will result in broad-scale ecosystem shifts across the Prairie provinces. Our boreal forests will receed while Parkland and grasslands expand north.

Precipitation is expected to increase in the winter and spring causing floods, although groundwater may decrease, according to computer modeling by University of Calgary Researcher Masaki Hayashi.

“Almost none of the future scenarios include sufficient increases in precipitation to compensate for the drying effect of warmer temperatures,” the report says.

The good news is winters may be milder.

The bad news is droughts are predicted in the summers and falls.

“The worst-case future scenario for the Prairie provinces is the reoccurrence of consecutive years of severe drought, such as those that occurred in the 1930s,” according to the report.

All of this means farmers are on the frontlines of climate change, says the National Union of Farmers, which sent a delegation to COP26 and were disappointed agriculture wasn’t a more prominent part of the conference agenda.

What are the solutions?

Well, those are stories for another time. Stories that The Flatlander would like to focus on in the near future. More about that soon.

Speaking of the future, do you have any topics affecting the Prairies you’d like me to dive into for a future Tuesday read? If so, hit reply to this email and let me know.

Also, if you ave any thoughts about this week’s issue, send a letter to the editor, and I’d be happy to publish it as part of an upcoming newsletter.

How can you support The Flatlander going forward?

If you found this newsletter interesting, please forward it to anyone else you think might appreciate it.

You can also visit The Flatlander Facebook page and give it a like.

Thanks for reading. I hope you found it interesting.

Cheers and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess


Important work at a critical time.

Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond,  local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.


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