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Les Henry: Weather, climate and actual data

A look at changes in the 30-year average annual temperatures in Swift Current

In recent months there has been much press anxiety about the “Climate Crisis.” The general gist is that planet Earth is warming to the point where we will be scorching to death. Crops will be unable to survive the heat and drought. Climate Change (warming) is the top priority in the minds of many, but not all.

The arguments are in two basic camps.

The “Global Warmers” have mathematical models that claim to predict that we are soon over the cliff and all doomed. The solution is to quickly kill coal and petroleum and we will all be saved.

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The “Deniers” believe that the climate may be changing, but forces of nature are in charge and mankind has little to do with it.

To deny that climate is changing is to deny that we live on planet Earth. The planet we share is about 1.4 billion years old and climate has gone through many dramatic changes in that time. In more “recent” times of about one million years we have seen glaciers come and go several times from almost all of the area we farm in Western Canada and as far south as northeast Kansas.

Weather and climate

One thing that all camps agree on is that weather is the day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to year conditions that we experience. Climate is the 30-year average. Therefore, if we are talking about climate change, we must trace how the 30-year average is changing.

Climate data for Swift Current, Sask.

As a scientist, it is data that carries the day, not opinion. For the past decade I have been attempting to assemble historic records long enough to allow temperature to be studied as climate, not weather. Accessible data from Environment Canada is very limited.

Thanks to a long line of dedicated scientists at the Swift Current Agricultural Research Station we now have a complete monthly record of temperature and precipitation from 1886 to present. The first scientists must have assembled existing information because the Swift Current Experimental Farm begin in 1920. The data from 1886 on is accessible on the current Environment Canada website.

The three groups of graphs below show how the climate has changed. The 1915 data is the average of data from 1886 to 1915. The 2018 data is the average of 1989 to 2018 inclusive. The Y axis has a 5 C temperature range for all months except January which required 6 C. That allows easy visual comparison of the temperature range of different months.

Readers can study annual average temperature and temperatures for individual months and draw your own conclusions. Here are some observations I have made:

1. Winter months: The range of 30-year average temperature is large for January, February and March. Those months show warming from 1915 to 1940, cooling from 1940-1980 and warming of several degrees from about 1980 to 2000. The latest episode of warming ended about the turn of the century. There is some indication of cooling in recent 30-year records but the time is too short to be sure.

The big range in January to March will drive the annual average as most other months have a much lower range of temperature.

Swift Current temperature average: Jan. – Feb.

2. April, May, June and August: In April, May, June and August, 30-year averages are little different now than they were in 1915.

3. July: July is actually cooling.

Swift Current temperature average: Mar. – July.

4. September: September has a sharp warming period near the end of the record. (see at bottom)

5. October, November and December: October, November and December show no clear long-term trend. December was warmer in 1886 to 1915 than the most recent 30 year average.

With this data and a few observations, I leave my readers to draw their own conclusions about what this all mean in terms of our ability to grow crops in a time of Climate Change.

Bad news and good news

Whenever I share this data with Climate Crisis folks they dismiss it as only one record and say it should be based on the whole Earth. But no one will say what thermometers they average to come up with the global temperature.

The bad news is that our current Environment Canada records make it very difficult to do similar analysis for many other sites.

The good news is I have recently learned how to access the huge U.S. long-term weather records to prepare graphs to compare with the Swift Current data.

Fargo, North Dakota, also has data back to 1886. The parallels between the Swift Current and Fargo data are remarkable. We have data for Dodge City, Kansas, right back to the days of Wyatt Earp (1875). Readers long enough in the tooth will remember the Wyatt Earp black-and-white TV programs of the 1960s-70s. Young folk can Google Wyatt Earp, Dodge City to get the story.

In coming issues, I’ll report on many other sites in the Great Plains of the U.S.

Swift Current temperature average: Aug. – Dec.

About the author


J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.



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