No snow means 'rough day' for Toronto forecasters

Forecast called for snow, residents awoke to rain
Although the snow didn't fall in downtown Toronto as forecast, it did fall over the highways in areas north and west of the city. (Lucy Lopez/CBC)

Toronto-area weather forecasters were taking it on the chin Friday after overnight forecasts called for snow that never came, CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe says.

Environment Canada issued a snowfall warning on Thursday night that called for up to 10 centimetres in the Greater Toronto Area and accumulations of up to 15 centimetres in areas outside of the city.

Had the forecast proved true, it would have been the largest snowstorm to hit Toronto in what has been a mild and largely snow-free winter.

Downtown residents, however, awoke to cold, slashing rain on Friday. Many turned to Twitter to vent their frustration at what they felt was a poor forecast.

"Meteorologists right across the GTA are having a bit of a rough day today," Wagstaffe said Friday. 

"Just that one-degree temperature difference between the forecast and the two degrees that we actually saw made all the difference.

"[Environment Canada] was calling for five to 10 centimetres for the downtown core, so they never said this was going to be a huge snowstorm. And I know that Twitter was throwing around "snowmageddon fail" tweets, but this was never going to be a snowstorm. It was just significant because it has been so mild as of late."

So what caused the flubbed forecast? Environment Canada’s snowfall warning issued Thursday and taken down shortly after 9 a.m. on Friday was a common target but Wagstaffe said that isn’t entirely fair.

"The Greater Toronto Area covers a lot of ground and looking at the forecast 24 hours in advance for such a large area for such a tricky storm, this was a difficult forecast," she said. She also pointed out that some areas north of Highway 401 did receive the 15 centimetres forecast.

Environment Canada has good accuracy record

Wagstaffe also said Environment Canada has a good record for accuracy and is the only agency allowed to issue official snowfall watches and warnings.

She said Toronto’s location can make it particularly difficult to tell whether certain storms will bring rain or snow when temperatures hover near the freezing mark.

"It’s because Toronto, the downtown core, is situated right on Lake Ontario, and with easterly winds keeping temperatures moderated, we didn’t dip below zero. In fact, we’re around two degrees this afternoon, so that’s not quite cold enough for it to fall and stick as snow."

Many areas outside the downtown core did see snow; about five centimetres were on the ground for the morning commute in Windsor and London.

And even though the snow didn't fall downtown, the weather was still wet enough to make things difficult for drivers.

"It’s not falling as snow but it is miserable out there," Wagstaffe said. "The winds are gusting pretty strong from the east. It’s switching back and forth between ice pellets, wet snow for some of us and that stinging mist and rain for the rest of us. It’s quite varied across the downtown."

Eastern Canada got the worst of the storm, with up to 25 centimetres falling in some areas.

Wagstaffe said snow or no, the weather in Toronto will continue to be unpleasant for the next few days.

"We may see some flurries for the rest of the day and it’s going to be a pretty cold weekend."