If snow news is good news, Ottawa should be 'embarrassed' by Toronto-style winter

Skiers and snowshoers are suffering, according to Ottawa's trail groomers, but skaters and fat bikers are loving the city's icy, snowless conditions.

Toronto has had more snow than Canada's capital so far this winter

When will snow come to Ottawa? Climatologist reflects on lackluster Ottawa winter

11 months ago
Duration 1:57
David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, says Ottawa has received below-average amounts of snow this year, putting the city behind Toronto in total snowfall to date.

Ottawans should be "embarrassed" of how few flurries the city has received this winter, says one climatologist — even Toronto has had more snow than what is typically the snowiest national capital city in the world.

"If you look at all the national capitals in the world, no one has more snow than Ottawa," said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"The fact that Torontonians are probably bragging about the fact that they've had to do more shovelling, plowing and pushing than residents in Ottawa ... [Ottawans] must be very flabby right now. They're out of shape. They haven't just been able to get that exercise out there," joked Phillips, who's based in Toronto.

Ottawa residents are used to about 223 centimetres of snow, on average, between October and April, said Phillips. In that same period, Toronto — just a five-hour drive south with its typically slushy, wet, grey winters — gets less than half that in a typical winter, he added.

This winter Ottawa has had a grand total of about 42 centimetres of snow so far in the first three months, which is its lowest amount in that period since 2006.

Toronto, on the other hand, has had about 46 centimetres of the white stuff. Even Vancouver, Phillips added, is within centimetres of matching Ottawa's total snowfall this week.

Meanwhile in Vancouver ... a person walks up a sidewalk in heavy snowfall on Tuesday. Vancouver's snowfall this winter is almost on par with Ottawa to this point. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

"I think you must be embarrassed by this," he said. "And now people are wondering, 'gosh, is this going to be a winter? Did we cancel winter?'" 

This year, Ottawa was in no hurry for a flurry with snow first falling in mid-November and permanent snow didn't start until mid-December, he added. 

"It seems to me you've got a lot of snow to catch up to make it even close to normal."

Trail groomers itching to work

The hard ground has become a thorn for snowshoers and cross-country skiiers across the nation's capital, but ice skaters and fat bikers have been thrilled, says Dave Adams, who manages the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail system.

Adams says his counterparts across the city have been itching to get to work, but they haven't been able to do much. 

"All the snow groomers are suffering. All the ski areas are suffering," he said. "As we wait, it's just not there. We just simply don't have enough of the snow inventory to get our machines on and grooming."

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River last February. Skiers may get their snow starting next week, says climatologist Phillips. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Ian Gadbois, president of the Ski Heritage East multi-use trail that stretches from the Canada Aviation and Space Museum to Orléans, says trails have been more like skating rinks.

"Our groomers are out there several times a week, kind of scratching up the surface [to create a grippable surface]," he said. 

A classic skier himself, he admits he hasn't been able to get out much.

"I don't go, quite bluntly," he said. "There are a few diehard classic skiers ... but they're shuffling along on the icy surface.

"It's not fun."

Good news coming for snow lovers

Despite Ottawa's "snow drought," Phillips says winter activities may soon pick up.

He noted some flurries this weekend, and the colder temperatures settling in. The "dead of winter" typically arrives the third week of January.

"The coldest time of winter is going to follow this weekend, so that's promising. So people need to have hope that they can start waxing their skis," he said.

"From a temperature point of view, everything is working to give you more snow in the next week or two weeks."

Phillips predicts the second half of winter will be more "winter-like" than the first.


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