COLUMN: Winter grey amps up weather blues

NANAIMO – Weather is a popular topic of casual conversation for people around the world.

It’s about this time of year I start the countdown to spring, when the sun hopefully graces the Island once more.

I know some of my friends are groaning right about now, but I can’t help it – I’m a little obsessed with talking about the weather.

I’m not alone – every time it snows, my Facebook friends bombard my news feed with pictures and comments – and radio announcers fuel my obsession every day with chatter about weather predictions.

According to Google’s Zeitgest 2012, Hurricane Sandy, the deadly storm that battered the east coast of the U.S. and Canada last fall, was the second most Googled term in Canada last year, beat only by Pinterest, a popular content-sharing service.

This year I have pledged to stop talking about the weather so much – after all, there’s not much I can do about it, except move somewhere warmer and drier, and I’m sure even then I’d find some aspect of the weather to complain about.

But I do find a good rant about it – especially in the dark winter months where daylight is scant and rain is plentiful – helps me cope with the days I leave my car headlights on all day and want to curl up and hibernate for a month or two.

Perhaps I pay more attention to the weather than others because of my love of outdoor sports. Biking in the snow at night can be a challenge, depending on how slushy or slippery it is, and riding the trails during a torrential downpour can be downright miserable. Some days, the light barely penetrates the forest.

Another reason I talk about the weather so much is it changes a lot more frequently than I’m used to.

I grew up in a land-locked part of the Lower Mainland that butts up against the mountains and when it rains there, you know what to expect for the rest of the day and probably the day after, as well.

Here, you could step out to walk the dog first thing in the morning and enjoy some brilliant sunshine, only to have it turn into a downpour 20 minutes later. About half an hour after that – back to sunshine.

My husband and I took a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, three years ago thinking we would escape the weather worries.

When we got there, all of the locals were complaining about the weather being ‘cold’ and how rainy it was – it rained one day we were there; every other day I was hard at work trying not to get a sunburn.

People in England, another cold country, really love their weather chats: the local TV networks had weather reports that lasted for 10 minutes while staff described what the weather was supposed to do, hour by hour.

While weather is a popular topic of casual conversation for people around the world, there is one group paying extra special attention these days: the insurance companies.

Five of the last nine years have been the most expensive on record for natural catastrophes and insurance companies and their insurers – the reinsurance companies – have had to pay out a lot of money.

A report prepared for the Insurance Bureau of Canada by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction last June states the frequency and severity of severe weather is on the rise and changes in Canada’s climate – temperatures warmed by more than 1.3 C between 1948 and 2007 and precipitation has increased nationwide by about 12 per cent – are likely responsible, at least in part, for the rising frequency and severity of extreme weather events in the country.

Warmer temperatures tend to produce more violent weather patterns, states the report prepared by professor Gordon McBean and his colleagues at the institute.

The report stresses the need for governments, communities, homeowners and business owners to adapt existing infrastructure.

So maybe we will all be paying a little more attention to the weather.

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