P.E.I. winter: Could snowmageddon happen again?

The first snow has already fallen on P.E.I., and as the winter months loom Islanders are worrying about a repeat of last year's snowfall.

P.E.I. has seen heavy snowfall 2 winters in a row

The Irishtown Road, near Malpeque, was a particular challenge for snow clearing last winter. (CBC)

The first snow has already fallen on P.E.I., and as the winter months loom Islanders are worrying about a repeat of last year's snowfall.

It was an all-time record at Charlottetown Airport, with a total of 551 centimetres falling from November to April. Those fearing another snowmageddon might remember the winter of 2013-14 was no slouch either, when 451.3 centimetres fell. (The average snowfall in Charlottetown is just 286.6 centimetres.)

So what can Islanders expect this winter?

Marcel Landry gained internet fame for digging a tunnel to his car. (CBC)

Big weather agencies, such as Environment Canada and Accuweather, regularly publish seasonal forecasts highlighting what's expected in the coming months.

Accuweather predicts a relatively stormy winter on P.E.I but not necessarily a lot of snow, because it is also forecasting temperatures to be warmer than normal.

Environment Canada also says there is a very high probability of above normal temperatures this winter.

Environment Canada meteorologist Marko Markovic said it is still too early to say anything conclusive about how much precipitation there will be, but he believes the warmer temperatures will have an impact on snowfall.

"Probably you will see more rain this year than snow," he said.

'Not much better than a coin flip'

That's two major agencies predicting we will not have a repeat of the massive snowfalls of the last two years.

But CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell warns you not to sell your mukluks. He's not a big fan of seasonal forecasts when it comes to the Maritimes.

"The accuracy is not much better than a coin flip," he said.

There is precious little difference in the Maritimes between a storm with lots of rain and a storm with lots of snow, which is part of what makes forecasting — even in the short term — difficult, never mind forecasting three months out.

Looking back

So there are some pitfalls in terms of looking ahead. So what can we learn by taking a look at past winters?

Consider the four winters before 2013-14. Three of those four years were below average, and 2010-11 was only a little above average with 307.8 centimetres.

What might that mean for this coming winter?

"There is no significance," said CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell.

"It's tough to draw long-term trends from even six years of data. Most climate normal trends are resolved out of 30 years or more of historical weather."

A downtown Charlottetown business owner contemplates the wall of snow separating the sidewalk and the door of his office on Feb. 17. It was a record-breaking snowfall, with 86.8 cm in the storm. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

Snowfall is variable. This is proven by the last six winters, where it ranged from 215 to 551 centimetres. Nor is this variability unusual. As recently as the last full decade, 2000-09, snowfall varied between 98 and 325 centimetres a year.

A better way to gauge snowfall is looking at recent climate normal trends.

The two most recent climate averages from Environment Canada — 1971-2000 versus 1981-2010 — show the trend is for less snow.

  • 1971-2000: 311.9 cm per year.
  • 1981-2010: 286.6 cm per year.

But even 30-year trends can be variable.

UPEI climatologist Adam Fenech points out the last two winters have had an impact. A climate average calculated from 1986-2015 adds 17 centimetres to annual snowfall.

But we shouldn't jump to any hasty conclusions based on that either.

"This can be erased quickly with another five years of lower than normal snow," he said.

So again, this means little for this winter. A 30-year average cannot predict the snowfall in any given year.

A final prediction

There is one compelling reason to believe we will not have another snowmageddon this year.

Snowfall on the Island last winter was a hundred-year event. You don't very often get those two years in a row.

But hold on to your mukluks, just in case.

Snow doors, formed by snow drifts completely filling door frames, became a popular photographic subject. (Submitted by Crystal Mitchell)