A balmy winter


Officially, winter ended on March 20, but the so-called cold-weather season never really began in earnest. In fact, with the exception of a few days when the thermometer hit around -20°C, temperatures were well above normal. 
The supposed winter of 2011-12 began in warmth and ended with temperatures that are usually associated with June — not March.
Oh, how wrong the prognosticators were at the start of the “winter.” On December 7, 2011, Mike Pigott of Accuweather, told the Globe and Mail that temperatures would plummet 10°C below normal in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Oops! That didn’t happen. Instead, it was the other way around.
The Farmer’s Almanac, the tome of folk information that many regard as the true predictor of weather to come, was completely off kilter when it forecast a below-normal winter on the prairies.
Environment Canada warned prairie residents to expect a deep-freeze that failed to arrive. David Phillips, a climatologist with Environment Canada, said last December that winter hadn’t been cancelled by the government agency. The government agency’s prognostication was for the worst winter in 20 years.
It turned out to be a rather embarrassing prediction based upon an la Niña (Spanish for “girl”) event that usually forewarns of a bitterly cold and snowy winter. But this winter, the cooler-ocean event off the coast of Peru defied its normal influence on climate and didn’t emerge as a weather factor in Canada.
“We kept waiting, and we kept saying, ‘It’s warm in December, but you wait, in January and February (winter) is going to kick into effect!’” said Phillips in a recent Maclean’s magazine article by Cathy Gulli.
This week, a humbled Phillips told the media, winter actually was cancelled.
What happened is that the jet stream kept cold Arctic air far to the north, keeping temperatures higher than usual. 
Remember when it was suggested before the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased and moved to our city that players didn’t want to come to Winnipeg because it was too darn cold in the winter? Well, Winnipeg turned out to be a relatively balmy place to play professional hockey. In fact, some recent days in “warm-winter” Winnipeg have recorded higher temperatures than those in the American South. 
When the Jets played the Carolina Hurricanes last Sunday at the MTS Centre, the local temperature was higher than that in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Take that, you Winnipeg naysayers!
I was in British Columbia during the Christmas season and whenever I said I was from Winnipeg, the common refrain was, “Oh, you’re from ‘Winter-peg.’” At the time, the Fraser Valley temperature was from 10°C to 12°C and, of course, it was raining, so it felt downright chilly. Meanwhile at home, the temperature was above 0°C and felt absolutely comfy —  after all, we have a significantly drier climate. The temperature on January 3 this year in Winnipeg was -1.7°C when the 30-year average has been -13.1°C.
And the temperatures here in recent days have been in the double-digits, while B.C.’s temperatures have only been in the single-digits.
In Winnipeg, the temperature was 20°C last Friday, 19°C last Saturday, and in the 23°C last Sunday — all new records. Monday witnessed a heat wave, with a new record set for the day of 24.3°C. It was the warmest March day on record since local temperatures began being gauged in 1873. The normal high is a mere 0°C.
What was the high temperature in Vancouver on Monday, March 19, the last day of winter? It was just 7°C. And get this, it was snowing. During the 43rd annual Festival du Voyageur celebrations held in February in St. Boniface, snow had to be hauled in to make up for the lack of precipitation this past winter, which was 25 per cent below normal. Look around. Where’s the snow? The answer is that it melted away long ago.
“Winter-peg?” Bah! Humbug!
Perhaps people living on the West (“Wet”) Coast should consider moving to Manitoba to enjoy a more palatable climate.
“Unusual,” “extraordinary,” “unbelievable” and “spectacular” are all superlatives being used to describe the 2011-12 winter in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and across much of Canada.
The balmy weather has given the construction workers at the new Investors Group Stadium, the future home of Winnipeg Blue Bombers, an opportunity to make-up for lost time. Other segments of the construction industry are also taking advantage of being blessed with warmer-than-usual weather. A construction season curtailed by the cold grasp of winter appears to be a thing of the past.
Climatologists say temperatures across Canada have been increasing over the last 65 years, making winters 3°C warmer on average. The three warmest winters on record have all occurred over the last six years.
Warmer weather isn’t always a good thing. For people living in usually isolated northern communities, winter ice roads are their lifeline to the outside world, providing needed groceries, fuel, building materials, etc. While Manitoba northern communities survived the shorter-than-normal winter ice road season, it is possible there will be continual supply crises in the future if the trend toward warmer winters continues.
“Given the fact that we know our winters have clearly warmed up,” Phillips told Maclean’s, “I suppose this is the new normal.”
Think about this change in Canadian winters. Researchers at McGill and Concordia universities published a paper in the journal of Environmental Research Letters, which determined that the outdoor skating season shortened between 1951 and 2005 due to the lack of cold days to build ice. And they expect this trend to continue.
How many of you learned to play hockey on an outdoor rink? I did. It seems a shame to have what is clearly an identifying feature of a Canadian winter doomed to disappear.
But let’s not get too far ahead. There may be an average warming trend, but winters are here to stay in the most northern country on the North American continent. What is predictable is that some winters will be cold, some will be warm; some will have less snow than normal, while others will have an abundance of snow.
No one can really cancel winter. It’s a fact of life for anyone living in Canada. But what may be moderating is its overall  depth of intensity. 
Meanwhile, let’s enjoy our good fortune while it lasts.