Summer storms or winter wallops: What do Canadians fear?
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Monday, June 5, 2017, 9:48 AM - When it comes to weather, what are Canadians more worried about: Winter or summer? In the wake of an eventful winter and an twisting start to June, where we saw an Albertan man showcase his nonchalance by cutting the grass in the shadow of a giant, we dug in to find out what concerns Canadians more.
The sole intent of the deep dive into The Weather Network's data on active weather stories was to reveal whether Canadians are winter weenies, summer savants, or enjoy the seasons in a harmonious balance.
A few caveats: That's based on pageviews of Weather Network online news articles produced from May 1, 2015, to April 30, 2016, a time period including a full summer and a full winter. It does not include weather-adjacent stories such as in-photos pieces or related news stories such as snow plows catching fire (of which there were several).
And it's not a question of one season being harsher than the other. Both the summer and winter of the past year were milder than most, with fewer-than-average episodes of severe weather like tornadoes or wide-ranging snowstorms.
Turns out, it wasn't even close. Canadians, making their 'weatherly-concerns' known through mouse clicks and tablet taps, showed that winter prevails. Here's why.
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Waiting for the penny to drop
But all the recent winter mildness might also be the very reason Canadians kept clicking on stories about the season.
"The interest for ... winter weather might have been heightened because there wasn’t a lot of it to be had for many Canadians," Weather Network meteorologist Dayna Vettese says. "So when the winter weather did come, people weren’t exactly used to it, whereas in winters in the past, we would have been used to snow, used to the shovelling. But because it was few and far between for a lot of Canadians this year, when it did come, it was a reset."
And some would have checked The Weather Network with a sense of hope, rather than dread. Canada is the land of winter sports, and most enthusiasts would have found the past season a bitter disappointment.
"We had lots of snow out west in B.C., but Ontario ski resorts and snowmobiling clubs were struggling this year because it didn’t get overly cold, there wasn’t a whole lot of snow. It was a difficult season for that," Vettese says.
And though the summer was also below average when it comes to severe weather events like thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes, even a normal summer might not get too many Canadian readers' attention.
Such severe episodes are typically short-lived, and will typically come down hardest on a single community or small region. But when the winter turns nasty, entire provinces might be buried beneath snow and ice -- hard for readers to ignore.
"You get a lot more of a localized feel in the summer, and I would definitely say that last summer was definitely a slower severe weather season across the country," says Vettese.
Winter storms: A slower-moving disaster
There's also another thing to think about: Winter storms and their summer counterparts aren't just different in their effects. They're also forecast differently, with winter weather much easier to foresee than summer thunderstorms.
Meteorologists might be tracking a potential winter system for a week, from its origins in, say, Colorado, up until it hits its final target in Ontario and Quebec, or a nor'easter's progress along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard toward Atlantic Canada. By contrast, meteorologists may not necessarily be sure of a severe thunderstorm outbreak -- with potential tornadoes -- until the day before, and in some cases the morning of.
Chris Scott, The Weather Network's chief meteorologist, says that difference in lead time likely goes a long way to explaining the apparent difference in reader interest when it comes to winter weather.
"There’s a narrative. It’s a story that goes over days, whereas tornadoes and thunderstorms, that’s over hours," Scott says. "By nature, your story can’t live as long. Unless there’s a lot of damage from something...the buildup just isn’t there."
With such a long narrative, that's plenty of time first to inform the reader something might be coming, then hold interest as it approaches and the forecast becomes more refined.
This isn't to say summer weather is milder -- Canada is a tornado-prone nation, and even a non-tornadic storm can be damaging -- it's just more localized, and typically shorter-lived.
"People, if it’s just general thunderstorms, then they just want more forecast specifics. They just want to know when, and how bad, when’s it over," Scott says. "Whereas, with a snowstorm, they may be kind of more likely to dive in. 'Okay, where’s it’s coming from' ... There’s just more time."