How the changing face of winter in New Brunswick is forcing some adjustments
Mike Vokey, executive director of the New Brunswick Exhibition, took cold weather and snow for granted in New Brunswick in February.
Unfortunately he made a mistake at the Winterfrolic outdoor event.
Featuring sled hills, snow mazes and, once, an ice rink, the event was scheduled to take place over a weekend in January, but due to a lack of snow that date was pushed back to February’s Family Day weekend.
But even February brought difficulties with rain and warm weather, forcing the event to shrink to just two days and the rink to close.
“It’s frustrating,” Vokey said.
“It’s also a lot of work for a lot of volunteers. You can’t do anything about it. There are a lot of things in your control but the weather isn’t.”
This is not only frustrating but also expensive. According to Vokey, moving an event, even Winterfrolic’s size, can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000.
Winterfrolic isn’t the only victim of a mild winter.
Ski slopes like Crabbe Mountain in Upper Hainesville have had to close several times, to the point of closing part of the holiday season due to warm temperatures.
Outdoor activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing have also been hampered by a lack of snow, or at least uncertainty about when snow will come.
However, some activities seem to be a bit more resilient.
Dave Garland, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, said snowmobilers have, by and large, been able to cope with changing winters.
He said while some people might have to travel a bit to find snow.
But he said that elevation, not latitude, makes the difference in New Brunswick when it comes to snow. He said even southern areas aren’t that far from trails that are groomed and last longer.
“The field might be bare, with grass and grain showing through, but you look where the groomer went and there’s still a 20-inch base,” Garland said.
“Once we get the snow groomers out and set up a base, that base has a long lifespan.”
to blame for climate change
Charles Bourque, a professor of forestry and environmental management at the University of New Brunswick, said the main reason for the warmer winters is climate change and not traditional warming cycles like seasonal thaws.
He said data has shown rising winter temperatures for decades, but even first-hand experience shows things have changed.
“My hometown is in Shediac and I remember that time of year you would see all these sheds in the bay… people ice fishing,” Bourque said.
“Now you never see those scales on the ice, or I haven’t seen them, and that’s a clue to where we’re going.”
The changing climate poses a problem for the province’s tourism sector, which often touts the New Brunswick winter as a snow-plenty place perfect for outdoor activities.
According to Danielle Elliott, spokeswoman for the Department for Tourism, Heritage and Culture, climate change has had a negative impact on some planned events and activities, prompting more investment in mitigation measures such as snowmaking.
However, she said warmer temperatures are making some activities more accessible.
“Less harsh weather conditions have also made some outdoor activities more appealing to New Brunswickers and visitors alike,” Elliott said in an email.
“For example, winter camping is becoming more palatable to many and growing in popularity.”
Stacey Russell, Fredericton’s tourism and events manager, said the changing weather has prompted the city to get more creative when it comes to hosting and promoting winter events such as the annual Frostival.
“Our strategy and approach over the past few years is [whenever] We’re introducing new products… it would be a mix of indoor and outdoor activities,” Russell said.
“If, god forbid, Mother Nature has driven us to a loop, we have some other options for getting people out and enjoying the celebrations.”
There are some silver linings, but even they are laced.
Bourque said it’s possible that a slightly warmer winter could mean more snow, not less, in some areas of the province, but it still wouldn’t help ice form on rivers, lakes and outdoor hockey rinks.
Daniel Rainham, a professor in the Department of Health at Dalhousie University, said a warmer winter could mean fewer mid-season deaths.
“Even before COVID, there was a steady flow of people dying from influenza during the winter … in large part, you could say it was due to close contact with people indoors during the winter,” Rainham said.
“The other reason you’d be surprised at how many people die from cardiac arrest or cardiovascular problems associated with shoveling and heavy exertion clearing snow.”
A warmer winter could mean a hotter summer with more drastic temperature fluctuations, which would have a negative impact on health.
Bourque said depending on the model and how much effort the world makes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, average winter temperatures would rise between 1.6C and 4.5C, which could change the face of New Brunswick winter for generations.
“There may be areas where the traditional winter that people are used to thinking about could go away,” Bourque said.
“If temperatures continue to rise, there’s no other way but to get into a state where you don’t have the snow depth.”
As for Winterfrolic, Vokey said he would never want to put an end to the event, but he has to be realistic.
“If you look at it, how many times can you commit to something that’s high risk?”