A link between ice storms and climate change?
Passers-by are impressed by the fall of this ten-meter tree in Parc La Fontaine.
Is the ice storm in Montreal linked to climate change? Métro met with experts to discuss it.
“100%,” says associate professor at the University of Ottawa and climatology expert Hossein Bonakdari. He explains that early spring is the optimal time for the creation of freezing rain, since the air is warmer there while the temperature on the ground is sometimes still cold, which helps to freeze the precipitation.
According to its studies, Canada is likely to experience a small or medium increase in freezing rain if nothing is done to limit carbon emissions. “By reducing emissions, we reduce the risks,” he adds, whether for ice storms, floods or major storms.
He warns that everything leads us to believe that 2024 will be a particularly difficult year climatically speaking in Canada. The hot air current nicknamed “El Niño” is entering deeper and deeper into the continent and the climate is in the process of adapting to this change, which can cause major events.
A position questioned
For Christopher McRay, rain specialist chilling in Ouranos, it’s rather the opposite portrait that stands. He predicts that “ice will occur less often in the future, because the necessary temperatures will be encountered less often”.
He explains that southern Quebec, including Montreal, is warming and that the ground temperature could have the effect of less often allowing the rains to freeze to form an ice.
“We expect more precipitation in winter, but there is much uncertainty about the type. More rain yes, but ice is not safe, ”summarizes the expert.
According to him, the zone at risk of ice storm is moving more and more towards the North and will rather threaten the other regions of Quebec. This position is questioned by the climate professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Julie Mireille Thériault.
“Even if it is warmer, it is still cold enough to see ice” , she argues. Ms. Thériault explains that the formation of the St. Lawrence Valley channels the cold winds from the northeast, so that the area prone to freezing rain will always touch the Montreal area even when moving north.
The urgency of a more resilient system
Whether we experience more ice storms or not, our experts agree on one point: we need a more resilient electrical system.
While he thinks the future holds less ice, Mr. McRay says “other things are going to be worse in the future” such as storms.
Mr. Bondakari rather believes that stronger ice is to be expected and that our electrical system must be adapted since it is becoming more and more important in society.
Recalling that approximately $5 billion was lost during the ice storm in 1998, he estimates that “it could be four or five times more with the age of our system”.
He urges governments to put in place short-term policies rather than embarking on multi-year projects; “we have to take action, this is not the time to talk about it”.