No idea when full Rideau Canal Skateway can open

The entire length of the Rideau Canal Skateway hasn't opened yet this year and the NCC says it will be at least another week until that's possible.

Warm U.S. storms, fluctuating temperatures make things unpredictable

Skaters bundled up to hit the Rideau Canal Skateway on the first day of the 2020 season. The full length of the Skateway has yet to open this season. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

The entire length of the Rideau Canal Skateway has not opened yet this year and it will be at least the middle of next week until that's possible.

Ottawa's fluctuating winter weather has made it difficult for the ice to grow to 30 centimetres thick, the minimum that the National Capital Commission (NCC) requires for skating.

"The problem is that it's not consistently cold," said David Phillips, a senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"We're not getting long bouts of cold weather. And that's why skating has been back and forth, a kind of yo-yo situation." 


As of Thursday, the Rideau Skateway has been open for 16 days this season, but that only includes sections of the canal.

The downtown section from the National Arts Centre to Somerset Avenue has yet to open and the ice hasn't returned to readiness from Bank Street to Bronson Avenue,  dividing the Canal into two skateable sections.

Knowing if and when the rest will open is "very hard to say," said Corey Laroque, a spokesperson for the NCC.

Laroque said Wednesday that they can't make any predictions on timing, but that it will be at least another week.

"You're at the mercy of Mother Nature, and it's unpredictable year after year," he said. 

The Rideau Canal Skateway in downtown Ottawa has not yet opened in 2020. (CBC)

Last year, the Rideau Skateway was open for 59 skating days. 

This season it didn't open until Jan. 18, a later start which will likely mean fewer skating days.

The record for the shortest skating season was set in 2015-2016, when the skateway was open for only 18 days. 

The NCC has maintained the skateway since 1971.

U.S. storms brought warm air

This year's fluctuating temperatures have been partially caused by warm storm systems moving up from the United States, according to Phillips. 

"These storms are coming up from Colorado, Texas, California," he said. "They bring some mild temperatures."

"We've seen another system almost like clockwork every week."

(Environment Canada)

Phillips said that in January, Ottawa's average temperatures were about four degrees warmer than normal. 

"In the last 50 years, January temperatures have warmed up by two degrees," he said. "In climate circles, that is very significant."

He added that most of that warming has occurred in the last 20 years.

People skate under Queen Elizabeth Driveway to Patterson Creek on the Rideau Canal Skateway in December 2018, in what was the earliest start to the skating season since 2004. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

In the coming decades, Phillips said that Ottawa will likely continue to experience gradual warming, as well as fluctuating temperatures, which will make it difficult to predict ice conditions on the Skateway. 

"Will we be skating on the Rideau [Canal] in 50 years? I think we might be. Some years will be really good. But other years will be nothing," said Phillips.

"You're just not going to be able to count on having a consistent kind of winter period."


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