Environment Canada blows winter forecast

Environment Canada admits it was off on its long-term forecast for Western Canada's winter, which was supposed to be colder than normal but has ended up being unusually mild.
Despite warnings, a couple give the ice trails a whirl in Winnipeg on Jan. 5. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Environment Canada admits it was off its long-term forecast for Western Canada's winter.

In the fall, when the weather service was predicting what it would be like this winter, it said be prepared for temperatures colder than normal.

'When you look at it, it's been sort of the non-winter.'—Dave Phillips, Environment Canada

Instead, this has been one of the mildest winters on record. In southern Manitoba, temperatures have often been far warmer than normal for this time of year, causing problems for ice rinks, winter roads, ski hills and businesses that rely on the cold and snow.

"Boy, never have we been more wrong in the West as this year," said Dave Phillips, chief climatologist for Environment Canada.

"I mean, you know, to have just been normal would have been a real error," he added.

"But my gosh, when you come out of December and January to be the second-warmest on record, I mean, it really is embarrassing almost. I mean it truly, when you look at it, it's been sort of the non-winter."

In Winnipeg, the average daily high in December 2011 was –3.5 C. The normal is –9.7 C. Snowfall for the month was 5.2 cm, while the normal is 19.8 cm.

Despite a brief blast of frigid temperatures in mid-January, the average daily high this month was –6.0 C, compared to the normal of –12.7 C. The snowfall amount was 20.8 cm, compared to the normal of 23.1 cm.

There is a La Nina weather pattern present in the Pacific, which usually means colder than usual winters, said Phillips.

That's what Environment Canada used for its prediction.

Even at the start of December, the weather office was still suggesting British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the most western part of northern Ontario should expect below seasonal temperatures through December, January and February.

However, the Arctic air that usually moves south has been kept north thanks to a strong jet stream.