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Okanagan region facing six-fold increase of scorching summer days, report warns

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New climate modelling projections are forecasting warmer summers, warmer winters and increased precipitation all year round in British Columbia’s Okanagan region for the decades of 2050 and 2080. 

In the coming decades, the Okanagan can expect a jump from the current six summer days per year above 30°C to as many as 36 days per year by the 2080s, warns a new report intended to enable community leaders and local decision makers to explore how to prepare the Okanagan for interrelated impacts facing the region.

It’s also designed as a call to action.  

“Temperatures can be expected to surpass 43°C on an annual basis in the populated areas of the Okanagan region by the end of the century,” warns the collaborative report by the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO), the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO), and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS). 

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Overall, longer summers and shorter winters are expected. 

By the 2050s, there will be 28% fewer frost days, which will have major implications for invasive species, agriculture, and streamflow, the report’s authors warn. 

“The modelling projections being completed by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium will help local governments prepare for a range of possible scenarios,” said RDOS Chair, Karla Kozakevich, in a statement to media. “This report will also provide valuable data about the potential environmental and economic challenges impacting the Okanagan in the coming decades,” she added. 

The report’s methodology is based on a subset of climate models selected by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5). 

The February report also warns that precipitation will increase during the spring and autumn months where, on average, the region can expect 17% more rainfall during these seasons by the 2080s. The concern is that the extra precipitation could lead to more frequent flooding and landslides, and place additional stress on ecosystems and infrastructure. 

Additionally, storm intensity in the autumn and spring seasons is expected to put major pressure on stormwater management and drainage systems across the Okanagan region.

“Based on these changes, there is a need to plan for more intense and hotter fires, increasing water shortages, more smoke days, and a greater likelihood of spring flooding,” the report’s authors stated. “These changes will have serious consequences on ecosystems, communities and the economy,” the report adds. 

In terms of primary recommendations to curb the intensity of change experienced locally, the report calls for aggressive reductions of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as a key adaptation strategy. 

“The ability to limit GHG emissions is strongly linked to development patterns – how far apart buildings and communities are placed, and how people and goods move between them,” the report states. 

The report also warns of what it calls “shifting seasons”. Projections illustrate that January temperatures of the future will feel like March temperatures of the past, and future May temperatures will be similar to August temperatures of the past.

The report partners included: Natural Resources Canada, The Okanagan Basin Water Board and Pinna Sustainability. Read the full report here (PDF).

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