Blizzards, record cold, and record heat have all grabbed headlines across Canada during the fall of 2020. While we have already seen historic early winter weather, very warm weather has fought back at times and kept traditional winter weather from locking in so far across much of the country. Is this tumultuous pattern a preview of what we can expect this winter? For a look ahead at what we expect during December, January, and February, please read on.
A wide variety of extreme weather is expected across Canada during the upcoming winter season. This should make for a memorable winter for much of the country. The focus of the severe cold will be across Western Canada, especially during January and February. Meanwhile, extended periods of very mild weather are expected from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes with the potential for episodes of record-warmth. However, Arctic air will also push into these regions from time to time.
Visit our Complete Guide to Winter 2021 for tips on how to plan for the season ahead
Before this pattern sets up, though, the national pattern will actually be rather contrary to our winter forecast for a few weeks. Above seasonal temperatures will dominate through the first half of December across Western Canada, with record warmth for parts of the Prairies and into the territories. Meanwhile, areas from southern Ontario to the Maritimes will see a few weeks of typical early winter weather.
AN ACTIVE PATTERN DOMINATES WINTER
An active storm track is expected from coast-to-coast, and that will deliver an abundance of snow, ice, and even rain to most of Canada. The most active storm tracks are expected to be into southwestern Canada, and from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes.
Given the forecast for above normal precipitation and colder than normal temperatures, it should come as no surprise that we also expect above normal snow totals across southern British Columbia, southern Alberta, and into southwestern Saskatchewan.
However, the snowfall forecast is much more tricky and uncertain across Eastern Canada. In fact, the most uncertain part of this winter forecast is the amount of snow that we will see from southern Ontario to the southern Maritimes, where mild temperatures will dominate and many storms will bring a threat for ice and rain.
However, a mild pattern certainly does not mean that we can't see an abundance of snow at times, especially across northern areas where temperatures can be well above seasonal and still cold enough for snow. This past November in southern Ontario has been a great example of that, as it recorded one of its warmest Novembers on record, and yet some places, including Toronto, received nearly double its average snowfall for the month.
As we look back in history at winters that had a similar global pattern to this year (known as analogue years), we can readily see the potential for this winter to be feast or famine for those who enjoy outdoor winter sports from southern Ontario to the Maritimes. The snow totals from the analogue years range from well below normal snowfall to historic snowfall totals — depending on whether the storms repeatedly hit or just missed the region.
During the winter, we expect that the region from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes will see extended periods with little to no snow. However, we also have a heightened potential for major winter storms. The exact track of these storms will be the key to whether specific places in this region end up with above normal or below normal snowfall.
Below is a more detailed breakdown of what you can expect in each region of the country.
A cold and stormy winter is expected to dominate across the province. While the first half of December will be rather mild, we expect a much colder pattern will develop during the second half of December and the cold pattern should continue through most of January and February. This will also bring a heightened risk for extended periods of frigid weather and heavy snow across the province, including in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
WATCH BELOW: AN ACTIVE STORM TRACK EXPECTED ACROSS B.C.
An outstanding ski season is anticipated with an abundance of fresh powder to enjoy, though heavy snow at times will make travel difficult through the mountains and to the ski areas.
A bitterly cold winter is expected across Alberta with above normal snowfall across the southern half of the province. However, the first half of December will be a dramatic contrast to the rest of the season, as it will feel more like autumn with very mild temperatures and even some record warmth. However, we expect that a much colder pattern will develop during the second half of December and this frigid pattern should continue to dominate through January and February, with a heightened risk for extended periods of severe cold and dangerous wind chills.
SASKATCHEWAN AND MANITOBA
A frigid winter is expected across Saskatchewan and Manitoba with above normal snowfall across the southwestern parts of Saskatchewan and near normal snowfall elsewhere. However, early December will stand out in sharp contrast to the rest of the season with very mild temperatures. During the second half of December, this region will transition to a colder pattern with a heightened risk for extended periods of severe cold and dangerous wind chills through January and February.
WATCH BELOW: LA NIÑA COULD BE THE UNOFFICIAL SPONSOR FOR THE PRAIRIES THIS WINTER
Northern Ontario will be the transition zone between areas that will see a frigid winter to the west and areas that will see mild winter to the south and east. As a result, northern Ontario should see more changeable temperatures, which should tip to the cold side of normal across western areas, while eastern areas should tip to the mild side of normal. Near normal snowfall is expected for much of the region. However, an active storm track into the Great Lakes region should bring above normal snowfall to areas near and east of Lake Superior.
A rather mild winter is expected across southern Ontario. However, this does not mean that we will not see any high-impact winter weather. During December, we do expect 2 to 3 weeks of typical early winter weather, which should allow most of the region to have snow on the ground leading up to Christmas.
January and February will bring extended thaws with very mild temperatures and the potential for record warmth at times. However, the frigid air to the west will attempt to press into the region from time to time, and an active storm track across the region will bring a heightened risk for major winter storms with heavy snow, ice, and rain.
A lack of persistent severe cold this winter should mean below normal ice coverage on the Great Lakes. The lack of arctic air should also mean fewer days with lake-effect snow for the snow belt areas. However, the limited ice coverage on the Great Lakes also means that any time arctic air does show up, we will have the potential to see heavy snow squalls all the way through the end of the season.
WATCH BELOW: ONTARIO'S STILL AT RISK FOR MAJOR STORMS, ACCORDING TO ANALOGUE YEARS
A mild winter is expected across the region, but this certainly does not mean that we will not see any high-impact winter weather. During December, we expect a few weeks of typical early winter weather, which should allow the region to have snow on the ground leading up to Christmas. Also, during the heart of winter, "normal" temperatures are well below freezing, so it can be several degrees above normal and still be cold enough for snow.
January and February will bring extended periods of very mild weather with the potential for record warmth at times. However, the frigid air to the west will attempt to press into the region from time to time, leading to an active storm track that could bring a heightened risk for major winter storms with heavy snow, ice, and even rain.
WATCH BELOW: AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT QUEBEC'S CHANGEABLE WEATHER PATTERNS
NEW BRUNSWICK, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND & NOVA SCOTIA
A mild winter is expected across the Maritime provinces, but during December we do expect a couple of weeks of more typical early winter weather, which should allow much of the region to see snow on the ground leading up to Christmas.
January and February will bring periods of very mild weather and a rather active pattern with a wide variety of storm tracks and types (but fewer than normal nor’easters). A higher than normal percentage of the storms this winter will bring ice and rain rather than just snow to the region. So, while we expect above normal precipitation totals, snowfall should be near normal for most of the region.
NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR
A typical winter is expected across Newfoundland and Labrador. Of course, this means an abundance of snowfall across the region. Fewer than normal nor’easters are expected, but an active storm track with a variety of storm types will impact the region. Some of these storms will bring very mild air to the province at times with ice and rain. However, periods of colder than normal weather should balance out these periods of mild weather. The back and forth swings in temperature that should come close to offsetting each other, resulting in near normal temperatures for the winter as a whole.
WATCH BELOW: ABOVE NORMAL PRECIPITATION IN THE FORM OF RAIN WILL BE POSSIBLE ACROSS PARTS OF ATLANTIC CANADA
This winter is expected to be colder than most of the recent winters during the past decade. A colder than normal winter is expected for much of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and southern Nunavut with near normal temperatures for the high Arctic, with near normal snowfall for much of the region.