Canadian Rockies: Climate change

I haven’t been coming to the Canadian Rockies long enough to know what the norm is in terms of weather.  So this is a snapshot looking back 5 years.

In the UK we have ‘weather’, pressure systems blown in in a notoriously unpredictable manner bringing rain and a diminishing amount of sunshine.  In Greece and the Canadian Rockies, my two loves, they have ‘climate’.  Summer in the Greek islands is predictably hot and sunny, verging on very hot.  Love it!  The Canadian Rockies in winter are predictably very cold, verging on very, very cold.    Love it!  I like extremes.

Why doesn’t the UK stop bleating about ‘severe weather events’ with 2 cms of snow and temperatures down to -2oC  (Boxing Day 2014).  It was -29oC on the ski hill on Monday warming to -26oC in the afternoon, -24oC in town!!!!!!!!  No problems anticipated or experienced.

When I came to Banff first in winter 2010-2011 all roads and pavements (sidewalks) in town were covered completely in compacted snow and ice.  How cold it would be through the day was indicated by how far from the door of the hotel it took for ice crystals to form on nasal hairs on the way to the ski-bus in the morning.  If it was -25oC you got to the edge of the car park (20 metres).  If it was only -20oC you got half way across.  That was in the centre of town!  Fabulous on the ski hill.  There were sun dogs, the sun refracting through billions of microscopic ice-crystals on several days.  The guy in the bookshop on Caribou Street remembered temperatures in town dropping to -54oC.

In 2010 the Bow River was frozen over with footpaths across and only a few narrow isolated sections of open water.  The Bow Falls were frozen solid, a solitary narrow rushing torrent of water emerging from the ice briefly on the far bank before plunging back under again as the gradient flattened out.

During this year’s trip so far, until today, temperatures have been typically between -5oC and -10oC, warm enough to go out in the evening with just a shirt underneath a down jacket.  Heavy snowfall a couple of weeks previously has largely disappeared, roads and pavements clear.  Locals comment how mild it is.

But perhaps the biggest contrast was walking along the river to the Falls, with far more open water than any of the previous 5 years.  Below the Falls the water meanders lazily around the right angle bend between Tunnel Mountain and Mount Rundle, heading northeast towards the Fairholme Range where it bends southwest at the Hoodoos, paralleled by the Trans Canada Highway.  A few years ago I walked the trail to the Hoodoos the river frozen solid, covered in snow, a little disconcerting when I came across a coyote sitting on the ice howling at a rival or a potential mate.  Now it is all open water, no way across. Safe.  Unless the coyotes are on the same side as me and hungry.

From the bend in the Bow River below the Falls I follow the Spray upstream to a footbridge, glacier-green water flowing broadly all the way.  In 2010 it was frozen and could be crossed at any point.  It is nevertheless still consistently cold enough for the informal ice-rink in a field alongside the river to attract people of all ages to skate, play hockey and stand around a log fire or toboggan down the snowy hillside.  “Isn’t that just typically Canadian” said the guy standing next to me to his mates from Toronto.

Cold weather.  Warm feeling.

Are winters becoming milder in the Rockies?  Is it just a natural cycle?  Is climate change being accelerated by inconsiderate and ill-considered human activity?  The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’ but a combination of both seems to indicate that significant changes are taking place in climate generally including the hard winters of North American ‘continental climate’.

Looking downstream from the new footbridge over the Bow River towards Mount Rundle, more open water than usual, ice breaking up

Looking downstream from the new footbridge over the Bow River towards Mount Rundle, more open water than usual, ice breaking up

The top of Bow Falls, usually completely covered in ice by now

The top of Bow Falls, usually completely covered in ice by now

Close look at the vigorous flow

Close look at the vigorous flow

From the crag above Bow Falls looking downstream to the confluence with The Spray Rive, Mount Rundle bahind

From the crag above Bow Falls looking downstream to the confluence with The Spray Rive, Mount Rundle behind

Looking back at Bow Falls after descending the 'closed' trail over the crag

Looking back at Bow Falls after descending the ‘closed’ trail over the crag

Lying on my stomach on the ice looking towards the Bow Falls through a gap under ice laid down when the river level was higher earlier in the winter .... just as the Earth tilted on its axis

Lying on my stomach on the ice looking towards the Bow Falls through a gap under ice laid down when the river level was higher earlier in the winter …. just as the Earth tilted on its axis

The confluence of the Bow and the Spray

The confluence of the Bow and the Spray

Gnarly roots at the confluence of the Bow and the Spray Rivers

Gnarly roots at the confluence of the Bow and the Spray Rivers

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Looking upstream on the Spray River from the footbridge

On thin ice - looking upstream to the footbridge over the Spray River
On thin ice – looking upstream to the footbridge over the Spray River

Looking across the Spray on a slow flowing section Looking across the Spray on a slow flowing section

Rapids on the Spray, usually frozen by now

Rapids on the Spray, usually frozen by now

Rapids on the Spray, usually frozen by now

Thin ice from a water frozen when at a higher level

The ice rink alongside the Spray River

The ice rink alongside the Spray River

Like a painting by LS Lowry or Breugel

Like a painting by LS Lowry or Breugel

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This entry was posted in Canada, Hiking, Landscape, Mountains, Wildlife, Winter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Canadian Rockies: Climate change

  1. Mark Smith says:

    Love the pictures Barry , can’t wait to go back in 2016 we’re already planning it, hope your having a great time.

  2. BarryH says:

    Thanks Mark. Doing a lot of skiing. Blue sky the last few days but a but too cold to risk fingers getting the camera out. Christmas crazies on the slopes but still great fun.

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