In the lead-up to the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, the government ordered the Beijing Weather Modification Office to shoot more than 1,000 rain dispersal rockets into the sky.
Whether or not the clear skies were a result of China’s weather modification efforts, the provincial government might want to consider firing off a few rounds in hopes of aiding the experience of visitors to Gros Morne, Cape Spear and all the other tourist attractions across Newfoundland and Labrador.
“No, we don’t have any plans to shoot rockets into the clouds,” laughed Tourism Minister Terry French, who was off to Fogo this weekend for a family vacation.
“I don’t know if there’s enough money in the world to fire enough rockets to get rid of some of the fog we’ve been having this summer.”
Kidding aside, the weather this summer has not been a laughing matter.
The deluge of fog, drizzle, rain, cool temperatures and near-constant grey skies since the beginning of August has been nagging at the collective psyche of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Through the first nine days of August, the average mean temperature in St. John’s as recorded by Environment Canada has been almost 7 C below what it was over the same time period last year — 10.6 C in 2011 versus 17.3 C in 2010.
Friday marked the first time all month that the maximum temperature exceeded 20 C. In comparison, seven of the first 12 days of last August reached that mark in St. John’s, with several more coming close.
The capital city experienced 50 per cent more rain in July 2011 than the same month last year, and weather was again cooler compared with 2010.
It’s been a miserable summer for residents weather-wise, but how does this affect tourists enticed to visit by the provincial government’s award-winning advertising campaign, which is largely devoid of images depicting fog, drizzle and rain?
“Based on our exit surveys, people certainly don’t come here for the weather,” said French.
The tourism minister figures the natural beauty of Newfoundland and Labrador will overshadow any weather-related woes people may experience. He said coming to this province allows people to get away from heatwaves that may be considered drudgery to those who live through them on a day-to-day basis.
Indeed, conversations with tourists on Signal Hill on a cool morning draped in grey skies back up French’s assertions.
Tom Woods was visiting the island with his daughter, Laura Thompson, and grandson, Will Olendy, from southern Ontario, where it’s been much, much warmer.
“It’s nice for a change,” he said of the cool weather in St. John’s. “July was the hottest one on record (in Ontario).”
Sam and Diane Caughey of Pembroke, Ont., were visiting the province for the second straight summer. Diane said she knew the weather would be cooler, but she can live with that.
“We’re Canadian — weather doesn’t bother us. We encourage people to come here because it’s beautiful,” she said, noting she will be returning to the province in September for a conference.
“The people are friendly, and it’s a very relaxing place to visit.”
If there’s any potential negative impact on tourism resulting from the weather, French said it may come in interprovincial travel, as residents may be less likely to take trips in miserable weather.
However, early indicators are that the province may have another record-setting year for visitors, based on figures from the Department of Tourism.
By the end of July, 70,449 people had stopped by visitor information centres, a two per cent increase over the same period last year.
From January to the end of June, the roofed accommodation occupancy rate was at 45 per cent, up one percentage point compared with last year.
Passenger traffic was up six per cent by the end of June, though non-resident automobile visitors through Marine Atlantic were down one per cent through to the end of June.