Smoke on the Horizon

Image: Bloody sunrise in Johnstone Strait.

We are heading across Johnstone Strait to Kelsey Bay, and the day is just breaking. This is not your usual sunrise, however. The sun peers over the horizon like the bloodshot eye of some strange beast. Dark clouds form a horizontal band across the sun that resembles the slit pupil of a reptile. The smoke on the horizon is an eery reminder of one of the outcomes of a too hot summer – forest fires.

Yesterday, the smoke came down into Port Neville. At first, we just thought it was a bit of cloud haze, but after awhile we could feel the irritation of the smoke in our noses and throats. It turns out that there is a forest fire burning fiercely in Port Hardy, and the constant northwest wind is blowing the smoke southward to us. It’s hard to believe that Port Hardy, normally a very wet location, is actually burning.

One of the significant impacts of global warming in North America has been an increase in drought and fires. Today, the Port Hardy fire is only one of many burning in the province. Most are in the interior, but there are a couple on the ooast as well. Global warming is not only creating hotter summers, it is also impacting the hydrological cycle. In the winter, more precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow. This reduces the snow pack in the mountains. A reduced snow pack means that there is less meltwater to feed the rivers and streams. Ultimately, streams dry up during summer, and the land receives no water at a time when the weather is hottest. This creates drought, with plants dying and the soil turning to dust. In forested areas, drought creates conditions that are ideal for the start and spread of fire.

When we were considering our property in Port Neville, we spent a lot of time looking at climate models and trying to get a sense of where things might be in 10 or 20 years. Since drought is a real issue, both now in some of the southern and interior regions, and in the future, we wanted to be somewhere that had enough sun to grow a decent garden and enough water that we weren’t going to have serious water shortages. Port Neville was the perfect location. Further south, past Campbell River, is predicted to get much drier in the future, whereas further north, past Port Hardy, is predicted to get wetter, snowier, and foggier (a real problem when trying to grow a garden, as we found out in our last few years in Prince Rupert).

There may still be those who are trying to deny the impacts of global warming, but a hot, smokey day in Campbell River, with burning eyes and throats, was more than enough to remind us how real global warming truly is.