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wf1_atlasStaff at the University of Winnipeg have rolled out a new online service to help residents of the Prairies visualize how climate change could play out over their region.

The Prairie Climate Atlas, launched May 13, predicts the number of hot summer days in many spots on the Prairies may triple or quadruple near the end of the century — that is, sometime between 2051 and 2080 — “if we fail to curb emissions” of greenhouse gases.

According to the Atlas, Winnipeg in such a scenario would see 46 days above 30 C, Regina would have 49 such days and Calgary would have 28 such days. Some areas of the southern Prairies could see 50 days above 30 C in an average summer.

Fort McMurray, Alta., in an average year, currently gets about three such hot days, but “later this century, under a high carbon scenario this would increase to about 20 days,” the Atlas says. “The implications of this are profound and far-reaching.”

“This clearly indicates that the Prairie region should expect more drought, heat waves and forest fires and associated implications, including significant impacts on human health and the economy,” the university said in a release.

The Atlas also lays out scenarios for fewer cold winter days in the region, warning that “while many Prairie dwellers complain about cold temperatures, cold weather has value. For example, cold temperatures keep pests and invasive species in check, allow for the construction of winter roads to service remote communities, and (are) an important aspect of our cultural and recreational heritage.”

“Many do not fully appreciate how much the Prairie climate is expected to change,” climatologist Danny Blair, principal of the university’s Richardson College for the Environment, said in the same release. “Our Atlas allows people to see for themselves how much the climate in their individual community is expected to change.”

The university described the Atlas as “an important tool to help with regional decision making regarding both mitigation and adaptation planning.”

The Atlas also lays out different scenarios depending on actions worldwide going forward, including a “high-carbon” scenario showing how much more the Prairies will warm “if we continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels for energy” compared to a “low-carbon” scenario “if the global community takes immediate and drastic steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

That said, the Atlas notes, “as you can see, the Prairie provinces — regardless of whether you have clicked High or Low — are projected to warm much more than the globe as a whole.”

The Atlas will also offer “high-resolution” information about changes to temperature, precipitation and the growing season.

Researchers at the university’s Prairie Climate Centre, working in collaboration with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, expect to “frequently” update the Atlas’ content with new maps, films and “adaptation toolkits.”

“This approach encourages sustainable development and resilient communities in the face of climate change,” Hank Venema, director of planning for the Prairie Climate Centre, said in the same release.

“The Prairie Climate Centre is creating data and knowledge that is easy to understand and accessible to all. We call this knowledge mobilization: it is about building capacity in our community,” university president Annette Trimbee said.

Graphic: The Prairie Climate Atlas’ outlook for the number of days per year at 30 C or higher by the 2051-2080 period, under a “high-carbon” scenario.