Expect more wacky weather, longer and more frequent cold snaps: McGill scientist

Atmospheric scientist Eyad Atallah says this week's frigid temperatures, heavy snow and rain indicates a weather pattern Montrealers should come to expect — more frequent bouts of heavy precipitation and a shifting Arctic air mass.

The coldest air on earth, normally parked over Siberia, is headed our way next week, says Eyad Atallah

A snow storm followed by rain led to flash flooding, such as this commuter witnessed outside Snowdon Metro Thursday. (Kristy Rich/CBC)

When Rohan Quinby stepped out of his home in downtown Montreal Thursday morning to buy a toothbrush at Dollarama, he was horrified to spot a man with a yellow axe standing on the street corner — until he realized that the man was hacking away at a thick layer of ice blocking a grate and preventing slush and rainwater from draining away.

"The conditions were so bad that it reminded me of Sir John Franklin and his ill-fated expedition to the Arctic," Quinby told CBC.

Montrealers have been coping with extreme weather this week — extreme, even for Montreal. Consecutive days of snow, bitter cold, freezing rain, then rain and back to snow again wreaked havoc on the city's roads, emptied classrooms, and turned sidewalks into skating rinks.

The big lesson for the city's executive committee member in charge of snow removal, Verdun borough Mayor Jean-François Parenteau, is that the city needs to be better prepared to cope with weather disruptions.

Parenteau, who is a member of the City of Montreal's executive committee in charge of snow removal, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Friday the bizarre weather in Montreal this week is a harbinger for more weather problems to come.

"We have climate change," Parenteau said. "We will have different periods where the temperature will change a lot, in the short term."

Clean-up crews are working round the clock to clear the snow, slush and water from city streets after days of ever-changing conditions. (Charles Contant/CBC)

More Siberian weather headed our way

"It's not unusual for our climate to have swings in temperature," said Environment Canada meteorologist Alexandre Parent. 

"That being said, what we experienced over the past few days over southern Quebec ... that's out of the ordinary."

A week of fluctuating temperatures and nearly perpetual precipitation began with an unusual combination of heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures last Sunday. (Radio-Canada)

Eyad Atallah, an atmospheric scientist who lectures at McGill University, says the heavy snow and rain indicates a weather pattern Montrealers should come to expect — more frequent bouts of heavy precipitation.

"That's pretty well-documented now," Attallah said.

He said another change Montrealers will likely see is longer and more frequent cold snaps.

The coldest air in the planet is normally over Siberia, but with climate change, Attallah says, that arctic air is shifting — and people living in northeast North America, including Montrealers, may witness that next week.

"This pattern is becoming more likely with climate change: where the west coast of North America is abnormally warm, the Arctic is abnormally warm, and the cold air that we normally would see over the Arctic becomes displaced, towards our region."

When spring does arrive, this winter's heavy precipitation could mean other problems, he says.

"I think flooding during spring melts is going to be a big issue."

In the meantime, Montrealers, bundle up and wear your crampons: Atallah says these temperature swings are likely to continue for at least the next ten to fifteen days. 

With files from Arian Zarrinkoub and CBC Montreal's Daybreak


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