Hamilton

How bad has this winter been? When will it end? — Dave Phillips, Environment Canada

We've had a wild winter — Ice Monsters on the shore of Lake Erie, plus a relentless cycle of cold, freezing rain and heavy snow. Don't blame Environment Canada's Dave Phillips. He's just the messenger. He looks back at this winter and tells us when it might end.

On the prairies it's been the coldest winter in 83 years

A man photographs a massive build up of ice that was pushed onto the shore of Mather Park in Fort Erie, Ont., Monday, February 25, 2019. A windstorm Sunday broke an ice boom in Lake Erie and allowed the ice, which was floating on the water at the mouth of the Niagara River, to shove over the retaining wall and onto the shore and the roadway above. (Tara Walton/Canadian Press)
We've had a wild Winter — Ice Monsters on the shore of Lake Erie, plus a relentless cycle of cold, freezing rain and heavy snow. Don't blame Environment Canada's Dave Phillips. He's just the messenger. He looks back at this Winter and tells us when it might end. 9:13

We've had a wild winter — Ice Monsters on the shore of Lake Erie, plus a relentless cycle of cold, freezing rain and heavy snow. We've seen people skating down neighbourhood streets. It's been the coldest winter in 83 years on the prairies. Snowfall records have been set in Ottawa and Sudbury. We've seen blizzards and snow days all across the province just about every week.

But don't blame Environment Canada's Dave Phillips. He's just the messenger.

He spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about the winter so far and to remind us all — it's not over. You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above. 

Dave Phillips, Environment Canada 
Environment Canada senior climatologist Dave Phillips says that April and May will be warmer than normal in Ontario. (Jason Viau/CBC)

People really feel like they've had enough with the cold and ice and snow. Was this winter really much worse across Ontario than others?

At this time of year even the fans of winter — the snowmobilers, ice fishers — who embrace winter and don't migrate or hibernate, they're even getting a little tired of winter. As Canadians, we love our seasons. When we get close to the end of the season we really look forward to the next season. In some ways it's been a long winter. In some parts it's either been extremely cold — on the prairies it's been the coldest winter in 83 years. We're seeing snowfall records in Sudbury and Ottawa. We've had freezing rain. I don't think we've missed out on winter. I suppose we all felt better when winter finally arrived in Victoria and Vancouver when, after sending us the flower counts and telling us the cherry blossoms were out, winter attacked them with a vengeance. 

In parts of Southern Ontario it hasn't been brutal. The other thing we don't keep records on is the length of winter. There are parts of Southern Ontario where it began early — as it did in other parts of Canada. We had snow in September. The only month where we didn't get very cold was December. It was actually warmer than normal. The other months have been at least marginally colder than normal. Not record-breaking here in the east but certainly the look of winter was all about us. 
It seemed to be no stopping the weather from attacking us from every direction.- Dave Phillips, Environment Canada

We had a lot of wind and that would certainly help to grow that ice feature (the wall of ice on the shore of Lake Erie shown in the photo above). In Southern Ontario we had as many melting days as freezing days in February.

We ended up with a bit more rain and snow than normal. What we saw in February was a very active month. Not many days where you didn't get precipitation. Near that freezing mark you get a lot of treachery that comes with the weather. It's not so much what falls from the sky, it's what happens at the surface — that melting and thawing.

It melts the snow that may have collected. It freezes it at night. It makes slippery surfaces. Weather was on our mind throughout the month not by just what was falling on us but by what was taking place at the surface. That made for a long month.    

There's a lot of ice around on sidewalks, on streets, in parks. Why has it lingered for so long?

We haven't really seen a dramatic warm up. In the Hamilton area, for example, we had temperatures that got up to 12 degrees at the beginning of February but we also saw temperatures that were –23. Some winters you won't see a temperature that cold. There were wild swings in temperature. That creates those icy, slippery kind of surfaces. We had a few hours of freezing rain but we had the snow that melted in those warmer temperatures then froze at night. We saw that in February and other months.

It seemed to me it wore us out. We didn't have a lot of intermissions with regards to the winter. It seemed a lot of storms came by Southern Ontario and would buffet us. We saw no break in it. It seemed to be no stopping the weather from attacking us from every direction. 

Normal weather doesn't exist anymore. You're getting from one extreme to the other. In many ways I think I could make a case for the fact that this winter is a product of climate change rather than something that is opposite to climate change.   - Dave Phillips, Environment Canada

Some people might be inclined to take this long, cold winter as evidence that climate change isn't real. What would you say to that?

The evidence is clear that we are warming up. Stick a thermometer in Canada, Southern Ontario and the globe, we are clearly going through a global fever issue. I think when you look at climate you have to look at not just what's out your window. You don't see climate. You see weather.

If you change the climate you also change the weather. It's not as if we are seeing new weather. We're not seeing tornados in January or sand storms in February. It's not our grandparents weather because it's more frequent, more intense. More wild swings. More jokers in the weather deck. 

Winter is not a time when people worry about climate change. But the kinds of extreme cold that we've seen.. the flip flop from 12 degrees in Hamilton for a high and –22 for a low. That may be more a mark of climate change. It's not just that it's warm, warm, warm. Normal weather doesn't exist anymore. You're getting from one extreme to the other. In many ways I think I could make a case for the fact that this winter is a product of climate change rather than something that is opposite to climate change.   

When will it end? 

We're gong to have to be more patient. You don't want to go from slush to sweat. You don't want it to end in a rush. With snow sitting on the ground in many parts of Southern Ontario it will lead to significant flooding. Standing water. The ground is still frozen. That melt will have to go somewhere. It goes in the surface streams and rivers and that can create with ice jamming, some serious issues.

You want a maple syrup kind of weather — melting during the day and freezing at night. 

By the end of next week we expect to see some consistent melting temperatures for two or three days in a row. Then we'll see some of the double digit temperatures in the afternoon. Unlike last year we'll have a spring. Last year we went from winter to summer. That created all kinds of issues. Farmers will be happier. Our models are saying we will have a normal March. April and May will be warmer than normal in Ontario.

Watch as an ice wall builds along the shore of Lake Erie in Niagara

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