Searching for spring: Winnipeg likely to go through 1st March without a day above freezing since 1899

Winnipeg hasn't had a single day with a temperature above the freezing mark this March. No one alive can remember it being this way — the last time it happened was 1899.

Temperatures warm up marginally by weekend, but more snow on the way, says CBC meteorologist

The black silhouette of a person walking across a snowy ground, a bridge in the background.
A person walks through The Forks area of Winnipeg on Tuesday, when the forecast high was a mere –8 C. The normal daytime high for this time of year is 4 C. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Southern Manitobans still have that walk. The quick-paced one, with shoulders shrugged to the ears, heads down and hands driven deep into the pockets of their down-filled coats.

It's a walk they've performed since November, to stiffen against the brisk winds of the coldest months — months that should have since passed, coats that should have since been sent back into storage.

Wouldn't it be nice to just open a window and let in some fresh air — without the furnace firing up? But here we are.

"It does look like we won't see temperatures above zero this 2023 March," Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell told guest host Cory Funk in a Tuesday interview with CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon.

Southern Manitoba has no forecast highs above 0 C for the few remaining days of March, according to CBC Manitoba meteorologist John Sauder, capping off what's been a frigid month.

Sauder called for a high in Winnipeg on Tuesday of –8 C and a frosty overnight low of –20 C. Those temperatures compare to the normals of 4 C and –7 C for March 28, Sauder said.

The closest Winnipeg has come to breaking the 0 C mark this month was hitting –0.8 C on March 10, and again last Friday.

No one alive has experienced the city being shut out like this in March. The last time it happened was 1899.

A person is seen in the distance walking across a snow-covered hill. The city skyline is seen in the background.
There was no sign of spring on this snowy hill at The Forks in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

That was the coldest March since record-keeping began, said Hasell, who did offer some solace.

"It's not nearly as cold now as it was back in 1899. It's closer to what we had 10 years ago, in 2013. And 2014 was even colder," she said.

"So in recent memory, if you can think back nine years, that's the last time we saw quite a bit colder than normal conditions for the month of March."

The average temperature for March 1899 was –16.1 C, well below the –10.8 C average for this month.

Hasell says Manitoba, like other parts of the Prairies, has been stuck in a cycle of cold Arctic ridges and low-pressure systems.

Last year, the city saw 13 days above 0 C in March. The year before, there were a whopping 26 March days with positive temperatures. Seven of those days reached double digits, including a balmy 20 C on March 29, 2021.

La Niña, a natural and temporary cooling of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide, is partly to blame for this spring's absence, Hasell said.

But that weather pattern recently fizzled out, so the lingering effects being felt in Manitoba should soon move on as well.

"We do see a slight improvement as things shift. Things should be a little bit more pleasant — at least for most people it would be more pleasant — over the next few days," Hasell said.

Temperatures should edge close to normal by Sunday — but forget about taking in the sun.

A woman walks quickly across a snowy bridge over a snowy river. Her arms are swinging and face covered in a scarf.
A woman makes a hurried walk across a Winnipeg bridge on Tuesday. A continuing freeze-thaw cycle, with temperatures above zero during the day and below zero at night, will likely make navigating sidewalks difficult, says Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Sauder's forecast calls for a high of 2 C in Winnipeg for Sunday, but with a chance of wet flurries.

"So, warmer, but not necessarily easy," said Hasell.

Beyond that, it appears Mother Nature and Jack Frost will be trying to settle a dispute.

"A freeze-thaw cycle might set itself up where temperatures are above zero during the day, below zero in the evening and night and early morning," Hasell said.

"So roads, highways, sidewalks, parking lots will become difficult to navigate, even if the weather itself might not be particularly bad. We do see that movement towards seasonal, but it's still going to be quite slow."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.