Cain’s Quest won’t go away, organizers say. Neither are warmer winters, climatologist says
The latest stretch of the unusually mild winter in Labrador, which forced the cancellation of a snowmobile race in the region this week, also caused chaos among residents.
Communities along Labrador’s north and south-east coasts have been battered by rain since Saturday, with some, like Rigolet, seeing more than 100 millimeters.
Chesley Sheppard, AngajukKâk or Mayor of Rigolet, links the problem to climate change.
“We have seen many streams open and flood. It just ran water down our streets and ate away our snow — what little we had,” Sheppard said Wednesday.
“It was a slow winter. We hardly had any snow this winter compared to any other year.”
The unruly weather forced the cancellation of the 3,500-kilometer Cain’s Quest snowmobile race, which takes teams across the Big Land. Organizers cited safety concerns for participants after one team sank through ice trying to cross a river.
Sheppard said mild winters are becoming a trend in his area. He said there had been noticeably less snow in the past five or six years.
“Everyone notices global warming. The ice isn’t as thick and doesn’t freeze over as quickly as usual. Everyone notices a big difference in the winters,” he said.
And while Cain’s Quest might just be canceled, the residents depend on winter and their machines for a way of life.
Sheppard said the more than 300 people in Rigolet depend on snowmobiles to collect timber, hunt and connect the community to the larger Happy Valley-Goose Bay hub, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest.
“It’s going to be difficult for people to get their wood if nothing changes, if we don’t get snow soon. The roads are pretty much washed out as they are now and the creeks are starting to open up,” he said.
“There is nothing in our bay but water. This usually happens in late spring, at the end of April. This time we are almost a month early. This is quite a dramatic change for us.”
Memorial University climate scientist Joel Finnis says once-rare weather events in Labrador, like this week’s rain, are becoming more frequent.
He said winter thaws have happened before, but before that they were short-lived and less frequent.
“That’s shifting. They’re becoming a lot more common, a lot more common,” Finnis said.
“You have a warm front moving through, but it’s an unusually strong warm front, relatively far north compared to our long-term climatology. That amount of rain is probably quite unusual up there in winter, but it’s perhaps an indication of what we might expect to see relatively frequently as we move toward the end of this century.”
Finnis said some of the more pessimistic climate forecasts for the Labrador coast indicate winters could become very similar to those in St. John’s.
“It’s an alarming rise in temperature and expect significantly more rain than snow,” he said.
“I want to stress that this is really tied to the coast, where winter sea ice usually locks temperatures down to lower levels. But as the sea ice recedes and thins, you have a much stronger impact on the coast. There can be dramatic shifts — and I want to reiterate that this is the more pessimistic end of climate change projections.”
The race goes on
After saying it was a difficult but necessary decision to cancel Cain’s Quest mid-race this year, organizers are looking ahead to the next race, which is expected in 2025.
Cain’s Quest chief executive Chris Lacey said Thursday the event is going nowhere.
“Climate change is one thing, it happens, but this weather has happened to us before, perhaps not in the severity of consecutive rainy days,” he said.
“We always plan and always expect to, but you can’t predict the weather. It’s the most unpredictable thing in the world.”
Lacey said organizers understand that weather patterns are changing, but Cain’s Quest will continue to run over the first weekend of March if possible.
“We don’t think moving the dates is something we need to do now because we fear it’s too cold if we take it any other way,” he said.
“That adds an inferior element of safety in my opinion, from a freezing side of things versus being wet and uncomfortable.”
Finnis said rare weather events are becoming more common due to man-made climate change and people can simply look to Labrador to get an idea of the impact a changing climate can have on the province as a whole.
“Cain’s Quest gets a lot of attention because it’s a high-profile sporting event, but of course that has implications for the day-to-day lives of the people who live there,” he said.
“It’s not just about a race. The race is being marred by something that makes the Labrador way of life really challenging.”
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