Albertans witnessed a year of extreme, record-setting climate events in 2023 — from heat, to unrelenting drought, to floods — and experts say climate change was one of the leading factors.
While the data is not yet available to confirm that Alberta experienced the hottest year on record, there were a few months that have set new records, including May.
"There was a record extremes observed in May when Alberta saw an event that was probably something like a one-in-50 or a one-in-100 year event," said Nathan Gillett, research scientist with Environment Canada.
"There were extreme heat waves observed [that month] and those were made more likely by human-induced climate change."
Those warmer temperatures resulted in dry conditions, which fuelled wildfires that would burn across hundreds of thousands of hectares.
"When you're looking at how much is on the ground, how much moisture is on the ground, if you get your temperatures shooting up and staying in the high 20s, in the high 30s, you get drier," said Alysa Pederson, warning preparedness meteorologist for Alberta with Environment Climate Change Canada.
"It's a lot easier for fires to start when our temperatures are so high and so it dries out the ground … which is [a] tinderbox in the spring."
By the first week of May, 108 active fires were recorded in Alberta, ripping through towns, national parks, and Indigenous communities.
A provincial state of emergency was announced May 6 and with 2,214,957 hectares burned, the 2023 wildfire season smashed the previous Alberta record from 2019 when 883,411 hectares burned.
Where there is smoke, there is fire. One metric that Environment Canada measures as smoke hours, an hour in which visibility is 9.7 kilometres or less.
According to Environment Canada, many parts of the province reported record levels of smoke hours. In Edmonton, 299 smoke hours were recorded, up from the previous record of 229 in 2018.
Calgary reported 512 smoke hours — up from the previous record of 450 smoke hours set in 2018.
The largest jump in smoke hours reported was in Peace River, with 743 smoke hours, up from 192 smoke hours in 2018.
Gillett says the link between wildfires and climate change can't be overstated.