Ottawa

Winter 'missing in action' and unpredictable March ahead

March in Ottawa has lived up to the old adage — coming in like a lion — after a relatively mild winter that didn't physically arrive until February.

Snow squall watch, frostbite advisory were in effect on 1st day of the month

An Ottawa snowman made in January 2021. Ottawa's November, December, and January were two to three degrees warmer than normal, until the polar vortex hit last month. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

March has lived up to the old adage — coming in like a lion — after a relatively mild winter that didn't physically arrive until February.

Both a snow squall watch and a frostbite advisory were in effect for the nation's capital on the first day of the month. Yet, it follows a late fall and first couple of months of winter that seemed questionable if it was truly the season the calendar displayed.

"Some people are going to say this winter was missing in action. Others will say, 'oh my gosh, it was too cold at the end,'" said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

November, December, and January were two to three degrees warmer than normal, until the polar vortex hit last month.

Don't write the obituary on winter quite yet.- David Phillips, Environment and Climate Change Canada

February temperatures were close to normal — even though the first and last days of the month were above zero.

"I give [this winter a] nine out of ten. It was actually ideal," Phillips said. "It wasn't painful or brutal at all and what I think was so interesting is that when you wanted the snow and the cold to freeze things up, it came in February."

Climatologist recaps Ottawa's winter so far

CBC News Ottawa

2 months ago
0:53
David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, says this year’s winter provided both mild temperatures and lots of snow, giving people a chance to enjoy the weather without the threat of “face-numbing wind chills.” 0:53

Ottawa had a few days at the end of January and mid-February where the temperature fell below –20 C, but that's only about a third of the usual three weeks worth the city would normally get in winter, he said.

For those who enjoy the cold and snow, winter could not have come soon enough.

The Rideau Canal Skateway didn't open until Jan. 28, and closed a mere 26 days later.

One thing this winter did lack — and something most people were likely happy to live without in the dead of winter — was rain. 

Phillips said Ottawa normally sees about 45 millimetres of rain in January and February, but only saw about one millimetre, at least until Sunday.

Looking north on Ottawa's Rideau Canal Skateway toward the Château Laurier and Shaw Centre in February 2021. The canal was open a mere 26 days this winter. (Brian Morris/CBC)

The warmer winter was also helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

"I think this winter was particularly good for getting out and about when you could social distance," Phillips said. "Nature could have been far crueller."

March prime maple syrup weather

March may indeed bring along more of a chill, at least this week, with overnight lows ranging between –12 and –15 C.

Phillips expects most of March to be prime maple syrup weather, with below freezing nights and melting daytime temperatures.

This spring could bring ideal weather for maple syrup producers, says Phillips. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Despite spring being a few weeks away, he said people shouldn't put away their shovels just yet, because the last month of winter and beginning of spring can also be unpredictable.

"Don't write the obituary on winter quite yet ... You still get 50 cm of snow in Ottawa in an average spring."

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