Polar vortex to blame for cold snap, Environment Canada climatologist says

Environment Canada's senior climatologist says he's surprised how long winter is lasting on the Prairies and warns cold temperatures could persist through the end of April.

Prairie cold could last through April, senior climatologist warns; Weather Network more optimistic

The cold weather in Winnipeg could persist over the next couple of weeks, Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips warns. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Environment Canada's senior climatologist says he's surprised how long winter is lasting on the Prairies and warns cold temperatures could persist through the end of April.

David Phillips blames a polar vortex for the spring cold snap.

"At this time of the year, it's often back and forth, up and coming, very yo-yoish kind of weather, where you're getting winter trying to hold on and summer wants to get a foothold," Phillips said Monday.

"And yet the war is being won by winter. Old Man Winter is clearly the bully in this particular situation and has got a grip on the entire West and is not letting go."

Temperatures on the Prairies were still in the negative double digits Monday, with a wind chill of –27 in parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In southern Alberta, a snowfall warning called for up to 20 centimetres.

A typical temperature in Lethbridge, Alta., at this time of year is 11 C, Phillips said. It was –7 C Monday afternoon. Other parts of the Prairies were as much as 16 degrees below normal.

Cold air entrenched 'like molasses'

Phillips said the duration and intensity of cold the region is currently experiencing hasn't been felt since 1970.

Environment Canada's record low for April 2 in Saskatoon is –28 C, which was set in 1954. The temperature there on Monday morning was –21 C.

"This cold air, it's just entrenched. It's like molasses," Phillips said. "It's filled all the nooks and crannies."

The Weather Network's forecast centre manager, Doug Gillham, said a blocking in the atmosphere around Greenland and over Alaska is causing the chilliness.

While Phillips said it might not warm until toward the end of the month, Gillham anticipated temperatures will start approaching seasonal — upper single digits — by the middle to end of next week.

The conditions should delay spring runoff, he added.

The key, he said, will be not to have a major swing in temperature mixed with heavy rain.

Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada in Manitoba, said different forecast models are pointing to different temperatures over the next few weeks, but most of them seem to indicate a slow warming process bringing weather closer to normal — if still a little cool.

"If we look at a number of the forecasts that are currently available to us, certainly looking at the public forecast for this week we see that temperatures are clearly well below normal for this time of year, for this week. They are slowly improving, but slowly being the operative word," she said.

"Right now, with the information I do have, we have temperatures in southern Manitoba remaining well below normal not only this week but next week, hopefully returning to normal after that."

While temperatures are well below normal, spring weather in Winnipeg doesn't always heed the calendar, Hasell said.

"Certainly this is somewhat unusual. On the other hand, if you look at the climate data for Winnipeg … people don't start planting stuff until June, right?" she said. "Perspective is kind of important here to look at that."

With files from CBC Manitoba