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Old fashioned Canadian winter

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Gina Ressler

Thursday, January 16, 2014, 11:15 AM -

Winter in Canada. Long. Cold. Brutal. But even by Canadian standards, this winter has been especially tough. We've been spoiled by several mild and pleasant winters in the last decade, but this season feels different. For many it feels like an old fashioned Canadian winter, where winter boots are well used and long johns are necessary.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Winter Outlook

The remarkable thing is that it’s been a very active winter right across the country. Usually when one half of the country is cold or stormy, the other half is relatively mild and calm. But almost all areas of the country have been walloped this season. Here are a few noteworthy stories:

Record Snowfall in Calgary

Calgary has received a massive amount of snow so far this winter. So much so that city crews are running out of places to put it.

In a city where brown Christmases are just as common as white Christmases, many residents haven’t seen snow piled this high in a while. In fact, Calgary received a record amount of snow in the month of December – 54 cm – the highest December snowfall in 112 years, and over triple the monthly climate normal.

Winnipeg Stuck in a Deep Freeze

Winnipeg (or “Winterpeg”) is famous for its long winters and frigid temperatures, but this season has been especially tough.

A cold air mass remained locked in place over the centre of the continent in December, making it one of the coldest Decembers in Winnipeg since the 1800s. That’s significant.

RECORD COLD: The coldest temperatures recorded...EVER

The cold temperatures have lingered into January as well, reaching a bone-chilling -38.0C (-51 with the wind chill) on January 5th. Since December 1st (the beginning of meteorological winter), sixteen days have dipped below -30C. That’s a stark contrast to the (non-)winter of 2011-2012, when Winnipeg failed to reach minus 30 once.

Temperature departure from normal. (NOAA ESRL/PSD)

Temperature departure from normal. (NOAA ESRL/PSD)

Sub-Zero Streak and Record Snow Pack in Newfoundland

Cold and snowy conditions weren't limited to western Canada. In Newfoundland, Stephenville and Gander set a record for consecutive days below zero.

Additionally, St. John’s, Gander, Deer Lake, and Stephenville all finished the month with a record snow pack. St. John’s snow depth on Dec. 31st was 66 cm, surpassing the previous December record of 64 cm in 1955.

#IceStorm2013 and #PolarVortex

Two major weather events had southern Ontario residents talking this winter. The worst ice storm in decades across the Greater Toronto Area left thousands without power just before Christmas, and officials estimate that the storm could end up costing the City of Toronto $100 million.

POLAR VORTEX DEFINED: The term “polar vortex” has been used in scientific papers since the 1940’s

Then, in early January, an extremely cold air mass descended across the US Midwest and into the Great Lakes region. This cold air mass was, in fact, a manifestation of the polar vortex – a large upper-atmospheric circulation, usually centered around the polar regions – diving southward. Even though the polar vortex is a permanent fixture in the northern hemisphere during winter, the buzz word took off on social media.

The extreme cold was accompanied by very strong winds across southwestern Ontario. This is noteworthy given that the coldest temperatures usually occur under areas of high pressure with clear skies and calm winds. As a result, London and Kitchener broke their all-time wind chill records, hitting -42 and -41 respectively on the morning of January 7th. The cold winds also brought a massive amount of lake effect snow to the snow belt regions.

Oscillating Between Dry and Wet in BC

While the rest of Canada dealt with cold and snowy conditions, much of BC had it relatively easy in December. In fact, December 2013 was one of the driest Decembers on record for the city of Vancouver, with only 70 mm of precipitation recorded at the airport. (The climate normal is around 160 mm.)

The story changed in early January, when a train of Pacific lows impacted the south coast. Vancouver received over 100 mm of rain in five days, while the mountains received significant snow.

NEXT PAGE: What's left to come this winter?

More Winter Weather on the Horizon?

Even though the days are getting longer and the sun’s rays are getting stronger, winter is still only half over. We have a month and a half left in meteorological winter, although we all know that winter weather can continue much longer than that. (I’m looking at you, Calgary).

#WINTERMISSION: Your amazing before and after pics

So what can we expect for the next few weeks?

Eastern Canada has already had their taste of mild temperatures, and now it’s Western Canada’s turn. A large blocking ridge is building in the jet stream, and will remain anchored over the west into late January. We may see a brief break-down in the ridge this weekend, but the long-range computer model ensembles indicate that the ridge will build back in next week.

GFS 500-hPa heights and vorticity for Friday evening. Pattern is highly amplified with a large ridge in the west and a deep trough in the east. (NCEP/NWS/NOAA)]

GFS 500-hPa heights and vorticity for Friday evening. Pattern is highly amplified with a large ridge in the west and a deep trough in the east. (NCEP/NWS/NOAA)]

This ridge will bring above seasonal temperatures and an extended dry stretch to much of western Canada. Edmonton, whose average daytime high is around -8 degrees, will see highs near or above zero right into next week.

NAEFS ensemble meteogram for Edmonton International Airport (YEG). (Environment Canada)

NAEFS ensemble meteogram for Edmonton International Airport (YEG). (Environment Canada)

While the ridge remains in place over the west, a large trough will become anchored over Hudson Bay. Central and eastern Canada will become cooler and unsettled, as several low pressure systems dive south towards the Great Lakes and up along the East Coast.

This pattern looks to hold through late January.

NAEFS temperatures probabilities for late January. (Environment Canada)

NAEFS temperatures probabilities for late January. (Environment Canada)

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