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Mild Winter so far for Canadians

Winter across Canada has brought one surprise: warm weather and a lack of snow. Although some areas of the country have now experienced more typical winter weather, there are still empty fields, snowless hills and above-average temperatures across Canada.

Across Canada, there have been unseasonably warm temperatures. Several provinces have set new records through December for high temperatures to start the winter. Winnipeg faced an average of -5.8 degrees through December, while the average recorded temperature through December was -13.2 degrees.  

Many across the city and as far north as Gimli woke up to grey lawns on Christmas morning, with any snow that had recently fallen melting as fast as it landed. Driving down the highway north of the city left drivers with a view of empty, brown pastures in unshaded fields. There was even rainfall in the days leading up to Christmas and New Year.  

The temperature teetering back and forth around 0 degrees creates dangerous conditions on highways as the roads are made wet from rain and melted snowfall only to freeze overnight.  

Calgary set a record for the number of days in December above 0 degrees. Through December in Calgary, the average overall temperature was 6 degrees Celsius, which is approximately 7 degrees higher than the recorded average for this time of year, marking the highest December average on record. Additionally, Calgary saw the highest amount of rainfall since record-keeping began in the 1880s. 

10 BC communities set records for the hottest December 28th on record. The warmest community was White Rock, which reached 14 degrees Celsius, breaking the former record of 11.7 degrees, which was set in 1929. On the same day, Whistler tied their record, which was set in 1956. 

On a separate day, West Vancouver set a new record on a day that hit 14 degrees. 

Ski industries across the country, much of which is based in BC, have paid the price for the lack of cold days leading to a lack of snow. Some resorts are reporting having less than half the snow required to operate as they would in a typical season. This hasn’t kept skiers and snowboarders from hitting the slopes in parks which have some snow. Many resorts have been forced to close, while others are only partially open, with certain sections still unusable.

Some resorts were able to start the season open but have since closed temporarily. Some resorts in Canada have begun planning to manufacture their snow next season. Though it may seem drastic, it is a necessary response for an industry on the front line of climate change. 

Winter in many places across the country has brought more rain than snow, particularly in places not averaging below zero degrees. Thus far, this winter has been very warm and humid, creating grey skies as far as the eye can see in this already sunless time of year. 

The Greater Toronto Area saw its share of rainy days through December, which included 17 days of significant fog. The average is three or four foggy days in December. Gander, Newfoundland, which sees an average of 111 mm of snow across December, had only 54 mm of fall, 57 mm less than average. The greatest decrease from average was seen in St Johns, where the recorded average December snowfall is 105 mm. St Johns saw 62 mm less this past December, seeing only 42 mm through the month. 

This pattern is consistent across the Maritimes. On the west coast, the change is notably less severe, and some cities even saw average snowfall, including Lethbridge, which saw 30mm more than average for a total of 45 mm falling in December, and Kelowna, which saw 81mm fall, 54mm greater than average. 

While the winter has been mild to start, it is expected to cool off substantially as January goes. Such a dramatic temperature increase will have a substantial impact on damaging powerlines and tree branches, each lacking the benefit of an insular layer of snow. The sudden increase will also be a shock to Canadians as the adjustment from record warmth to typical Canadian winter will be much greater than the ordinary gradual decrease in temperature seen from December into January. 

While the unseasonable weather has drastically altered the schedule for ski resorts, it has favoured businesses on the opposite end of the spectrum. Many golf courses from BC to Ontario were able to extend their typical open seasons as the above-average temperatures and lack of precipitation created an optimal scenario for them. By now, golf courses across the country have finally closed for the season, but many were opened deep into December as warm days kept fairways clear of collecting snow. 

Public ice skating rinks across the country have been greatly affected as the ice has not been able to form after flooding, given the warm conditions. With the new year, many regions have seen temperatures drop closer to the seasonal average. In Winnipeg, many await the opening of the Red River skate at the Forks National Heritage Site. On the Red River, the water level, which has greatly reduced in the last six weeks, shows major splotches of open water. While the river freezes at night, the warm days prevent the ice from thickening to a point that would make ice skating safe.  

Originally opened in 2006, the River Skate down Winnipeg’s Red and Assiniboine Rivers is typically ready for skaters by late December. Most years, the river trail is about 6 kilometres long, varying in length depending on the weather cooperating at the beginning of the season. 2018, the River Skate went over 10km, resetting the world record for the longest natural ice skating trail. The previous record was set on the same river trail in 2009 at 9.3 kilometres.  

The warm winter has also put a damper on the plans of those looking to get out ice fishing. However, the season is turning a corner. Many have already braved their way onto lakes across the country in order to drop a line. It is very important for anyone going out onto natural ice to ensure local officials have stated the ice is safe to travel on with vehicles. According to Parks Canada, ice thinner than 10 cm should not be trusted to walk on, and ice should be at least 30 cm thick to drive on. 

What is El Niño? 

The unusually warm weather comes as the result of El Niño. This weather pattern causes Pacific jet streams to move south, creating dry winters for Canada and the Northern United States. This will also cause the winters to be noticeably warmer. 

El Niño is a climate pattern created when surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean at the equator are .5 degrees Celsius above average for three or more months. It is key to note that El Niño is unrelated to climate change but will contribute to increasing global temperatures. With the addition of El Niño, 2023 was the warmest year on record. 

The arrival of El Niño was announced in June by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Across the world, El Niño creates extreme weather events such as heat waves, flooding and droughts. In Canada, it creates a drier, milder winter. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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