reasons to be grateful for the rain

20 August 2008

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There have been 674 millimetres of rain as of Friday morning,
compared to a total of 592 in 2007.

There's been rainfall, or at least
traces of rain, on more than half the days (39 out of 69) since June 1.

Trees: Toronto trees are greener and less stressed this year, says
Richard Ubbens, director of forestry for Toronto. "You see them framed against
the sky and they look terrific."

There's lots of photosynthesis going
on, he says. "So it means they are storing lots of sugar and starches in the
root system. It bodes well for the forest." The rain is especially beneficial
for the city's older trees, which are weaker and can succumb more readily to

Lake levels: Up, up, up compared to the well-below-average
levels of recent years. It's been a boon for shipping, recreational boaters and
marinas. Shipping loads – cargo such as grain and iron ore – in the Great Lakes
returned to normal this year after reduced capacity in 2007, when loads were 500
to 1,000 tonnes lighter, the Shipping Federation of Canada reports.

relationship is sensitive: for every centimetre decline in water level, shipping
loads are reduced by 50 tonnes. Lake Ontario water levels increased 33
centimetres over last year, and Lake Superior, 42.

Air Quality: The air
is cleaner when pollutants – ground level ozone, nitrogen dioxide and fine
particulate matter – are washed away by the rain and fresh breezes. In 2005, the
worst on record, Toronto had 48 smog-warning days. By this time last year,
Toronto had recorded 24 smog-advisory days. This year there have been just 10,
according to Environment Canada.

Apples, Peaches, Pears: There's been
great growth on fruit trees, as long as orchards haven't been in the path of
hailstorms, which devastated this year's crop for some growers. The 2008 pear
crop should be double last year's. Peaches and apples are expected to be larger
than average this year because of abundant rain.

"But we've had enough,"
says Brian Gilroy, of Ontario Apple Growers. "It can stop. What we need now is a
bit of heat and sunshine to raise the sugar levels in the fruit."

trees in Simcoe have grown about a metre this season. "Tremendous, some of the
greatest I've seen," says John Cline, associate professor of horticulture at the
University of Guelph.

Irrigation: Fruit trees need about 25 millimetres
of rain a week to thrive, and rain is more effective than the same amount of
irrigation, Cline says. On cool, rainy days less moisture is lost through
evaporation – it's generally hotter and dryer when irrigation is required.

Brenda Lammens, an asparagus grower in Norfolk County, says not having
to irrigate has helped offset the increased cost of fuel. Lammens, chair of the
Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association, estimates that laying
irrigation pipes and other costs involved could add 20 per cent to a farmer's
expenses in a dry summer.

Forest Fires: This has been one of the lowest
seasons in 50 years. There were 181 fires from April to August in Ontario this
year, compared to 799 during the same period in 2007; 410 hectares have burned
in 2008 compared to 40,000 hectares in 2007. However, there are some ecological
benefits to forest fires, notes fire information officer Lindsay Munroe, of the
Forest Fire Management Centre in Sudbury: a species like the Jack pine needs
fire to open its cones and spread its seeds, and fire can stimulate new growth
in tall-grass prairie and oak savannah areas while controlling invasive pests.

West Nile Virus: With the cooler temperatures linked to all the rain,
the risk of the virus – transmitted by infected mosquitoes – is low this year,
says Dr. Howard Shapiro, associate medical officer of health for Toronto. There
have been no cases of West Nile in humans so far in 2008, no birds have tested
positive, and only two samples of mosquitoes have tested positive.

Power: Each degree above 35°C can increase demand for electricity by 450
megawatts, the energy needed to illuminate 4.5 million incandescent light bulbs.
Cloud cover can reduce demand by 1,000 MW – the energy to run 500,000
energy-efficient air conditioners. Peak demand for electricity in 2008 is 3,000
MW less than the peak demand in 2006, the Independent Electricity System
Operator (which monitors electricity consumption) reports – that's about the
electricity demand for a city twice the size of Mississauga. The wet weather –
and more water in dams – has also contributed to increased production from
Ontario's hydroelectric providers. Hydro production this May, June and July was
2.2 million megawatt-hours higher than the same three months in 2007. That's
enough electricity to power a city 1.5 times the size of Barrie for a year.

Wildflowers: Wildflowers have evolved to cope with changes in moisture
and sunlight in their native area, says Carole Ann Lacroix, a botanist and
curator of the Ontario Agricultural College Herbarium in Guelph. Generally, they
are tolerant and hardy. With lots of rain, it's been a good year for
moisture-loving plants like ostrich ferns. But wild geranium and wild phlox, now
in bloom, are also doing well, as are the purple-flowered New England astor and
goldenrod. She's been digging them out of her garden, along with wild bergamot.
"They are huge, producing as much seed as possible – they've been taking over
and overshadowing a lot of other plants."

Gardeners: Joy all around.
"The vegetables have done incredibly well," says Cathie Cox, director of
horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden. "I have potatoes the size of my
feet in my allotment garden." She notes vegetables that haven't traditionally
done well in southern Ontario, such as broad beans, are thriving. At the
botanical garden, the flowers are magnificent, she adds, and trees that appeared
doomed have found new life. "We were considering replacing the Amur cork tree –
it had dieback – but no matter how much you irrigate, it's not the same as a
cleansing downpour."

There you have it. It's always nice to read something positive about a topic that everyone finds so depressing.