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Alberta's Saturday Sizzle: How warm could it get?

By Chris Scott
Chief Meteorologist
Thursday, January 16, 2014, 12:56 PM

Mild spells in January are nothing new for Calgarians, but Saturday’s warmth may give the all-time January record highs a run for their money across much of Alberta.

Our official forecast highs for Saturday are a few degrees shy of the all-time January monthly records in Edmonton and Calgary. The warmth is thanks to the jet steam pattern we've been experiencing lately where systems track through the Gulf of Alaska, redevelop along the 60th parallel and then drop southeastwards across Saskatchewan.

The key to warmth east of the Rockies is a west wind. The current jet stream pattern allows a west wind to move over the Rockies and descend onto the Prairie. This downward motion of the air results in warming – what we call compressional heating, or downslope warming.

A warm Saturday is a guarantee from Fort St. John in the B.C. Peace all the way to Milk River along the 49th and east into southwest Saskatchewan. The question is how high can the temperature get and could we achieve the warmest January day ever in some locations. The answer will depend on the delicate balance between the low sun angle, existing snow pack and strength of the westerly winds. In general, the stronger the winds get, the higher the temperature will go.

Calgary’s warmest January day on record was January 7, 2003 when the temperature hit 18 C at YYC (one weather station at the airport recorded a maximum of 17.6 C while another a few hundred metres away recorded 18.2 C). There is a chance Saturday’s high will approach these lofty numbers, but even if the temperature doesn't quite make it, Saturday will be a veritable patio day.

SEE ALSO: Old fashioned Canadian winter

This type of warmth is actually not all that uncommon. The warmest January day in Calgary is often around 13 C. Where this warmth will be more unusual is through central Alberta where a double digit high at YEG would break the all-time January record. We’ll get close, and it will certainly be something to watch as our forecast team adjusts the numbers over the next couple days.

Is winter done?

Of course, anyone who’s lived in Alberta for more than one winter knows the answer to this question. Some of our biggest snow storms occur in the middle of Spring, so there is plenty more winter weather to come. However, the next week looks to be a continuation of the generally mild pattern so there are no wicked arctic blasts or major snow storms in sight. Rather, the eastern Prairies, Ontario and Quebec will be taking the cold on the chin over the next two weeks. Towards the end of January, some of this arctic air may back up towards southern Alberta, but until then warm and windy weather will prevail.

(Thumbnail courtesy: FLICKR- Aldo Risolvo)

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