Last week's blast of winter may have been the worst of it

Calgary has already had three times the normal amount of snow for fall, and colder temperatures than usual. But according to Environment Canada, that's all about to change.

More chinooks, more "wall-to-wall sunshine" — unless there's another polar vortex

Calgarians lived through the coldest February in eight decades last winter and then suffered through the most fall snowfalls in nearly a century. But winter's looking a lot more pleasant than last year, Environment Canada says. (Christine Boyd/CBC)

Calgary has already had three times the normal amount of snow for the fall, and colder temperatures than usual. But according to Environment Canada — which has just released its official winter forecast — that's all about to change.

David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, told the Calgary Eypeopener on Tuesday that last year's brutal weather will not be repeated this winter, despite the early and heavy snowfall Calgary has already seen.

"You've had three times the amount of snow you normally would get in the fall, that's September, October, November. I mean the most snow you've had in 95 falls," he said. "Temperatures were more than half a degree cooler than normal. So I think you've already tasted winter."

Phillips says it looks like the weather will be a little milder than normal for the rest of the country as well.

"The weather outlook is that the dominant flow, the dominant pattern, will be milder than normal, which would mean more westerly air, southerly air, and less … Arctic air that would cover Canada," Phillips said. 

He added a caveat.

"Now, even if this forecast was totally accurate and perfect, you're not going to get 90 straight days of mild, balmy muscle-shirt, tank-top kind of weather," Phillips said. "There are going to be some cold fronts and there are going to be some snow dumps. 

But then there's the big unknown factor that added a chill to last winter — the dreaded polar vortex.

"A polar vortex will make or break this winter. And you know Calgarians lived through the coldest February in 80-some years last year, and it was all about the polar vortex," Phillips said. 

"It arrived at the end of January and didn't leave until March — it made the shortest month the longest month. And it really was relentless."

 Phillips did warn there's no real way to predict whether Calgary will get a polar vortex again.

David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says the polar vortex caused last year's brutally cold February. This winter's looking much warmer, but he says there's no real way to predict whether a polar vortex will head south again. (CBC)

"The problem is, we can't predict or forecast the polar vortex beyond maybe 10 days. … It's always spinning at the top of the North Pole," he said.

"But the question is, does it weaken and then come southward? And that's what happened last February. It weakened because of upper air patterns and it just came right down it was like an Arctic pipeline and just resupply of cold air, cold air and just day after day, week after week."  

This year, Phillips says Environment Canada is confident that the city will not be stuck in a deep freeze.

"We think that the flavour, the personality, will be like you see this week — wall-to-wall sunshine, temperatures that are going to be above normal," Phillips said. "If they get below normal, it just be slightly and then back up into the milder air. So I don't think that what you've seen this fall with colder and snowy conditions will be the pattern that you see this winter."

Meanwhile, AccuWeather, the Weather Network and Farmer's Almanac have forecast things a little differently, calling for a colder winter across Alberta.

Phillips says that's partly due to the timing of the predictions — Environment Canada has the most recent outlook, and only looks at it for the next three months, starting on Dec. 1. 

"We also factor in climate change. …Clearly people know winters are not what they used to be. Those cold, cold days are just not quite as cold as they used to be. We're still the second-coldest country in the world [and] the snowiest, but clearly the brutality of winter is just not quite like it was," Phillips said. 

Phillips added that we should see more chinooks this winter.

"There'll be a lot more chinook days this year, we've already seen them. They were totally absent last year," he said. 

"So we think (winter) will be a balmier and maybe shorter, and it won't be from Halloween until Easter."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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