British Columbia

Snow drought hits Vancouver with warmer winter forecast

It has been over a year since snow has fallen at Vancouver International Airport — the longest snow drought for the region in about 25 years — and the long-term forecast doesn't look to end the winter warm streak.

Environment Canada more than 80% confident this winter will be warmer than usual

Jessica Ancheta is silhouetted as she photographs the fog-covered city with her smartphone from Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver in October 2013. (The Canadian Press)

It has been over a year since snow has fallen at Vancouver International Airport — the longest snow drought for the region in about 25 years — and the long-term forecast doesn't look to end the winter warm streak.

But despite the lack of snow in the city, the past few weeks have been one of the best starts to the ski seasons in B.C. in four years, with many resorts opening early thanks to early mountain snow.

While the official start to winter is still a few weeks away, Dec. 1 marks the beginning of the meteorological winter. For meteorologists, that's the three months with the lowest average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere — December, January and February.

Environment Canada says it's reasonably confident in its long-range forecast of an above-seasonal temperature trend for much of the country this winter. (Environment Canada)

It means this is a good time to take a look at what the long range climate models have in store for the upcoming season. And once again — the consensus is warm.

Environment Canada has just released their three month outlook for Canada, with the overall trend being warmer than normal for most of Canada and all of B.C.

It says it is more than 80 per cent confident that average temperatures in the next three months will be above seasonal for much of southwestern B.C. Confidence in this long range forecast, it says, is more than 70 per cent for the southern half of the province and more than 50 per cent for northern sections.

Meanwhile the waters off the West Coast are almost guaranteed to be warmer than normal.

That's not to say the South Coast region won't see any cold spells, like last week, but overall the temperature trend this winter will be above seasonal for Vancouver.

Why the high confidence? 

Whenever the ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific warm up signifying an El Niño event — it adds more confidence to the long range forecasts. It is such a dominating force in the atmosphere that it adds a lot of weight to the long range outlooks because meteorologists know what that means historically.

Typically the jet stream splits during an El Niño event. But where it splits varies each year. (Johanna Wagstaffe/CBC)

An El Niño changes the weather patterns all over the world, and for Canada it has a reputation for bringing milder winters, particularly to the West Coast.

Right now we are in the midst of one of the strongest El Niño's on record. The fact that this is such an unusual El Niño — both in strength and location (this year's warmest temperatures are slightly to the west of the normal location in the Pacific) means that there are some uncertainties when it comes to predicting precipitation.

There is some indication that this winter could be slightly wetter than usual for the West Coast, but confidence in that forecast is not as high as it is for temperature.

In the end, It will all come down to the storm track. Even if just a few Pineapple Express situations hit the South Coast, we could end up at, or above, seasonal rainfall.


Johanna Wagstaffe

Senior Meteorologist

Johanna Wagstaffe is a senior meteorologist for CBC, covering weather and science stories, with a background in seismology and earth science. Her weekly segment, Science Smart, answers viewers' science-related questions.


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