Record hot summer could mean 'soft' start to winter, Environment Canada's David Phillips says

One of Canada's go-to weather and climate experts says winter 2017 could start soft and end hard, adding that he is also concerned by the summer people in Ontario have just endured.

Mother Nature brought the heat; will she bring the snow?

David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says he's "concerned by the climate" after the record-breaking hot summer southern Ontario has just experienced. (Submitted)

One of Canada's go-to weather and climate experts says this coming winter could start soft and end hard, adding that he is also concerned by the summer people in Ontario have just endured.

My definition of a Canadian is someone who worries about winter before summer is even over.- David Phillips, Environment Canada

"I enjoy the [summer] weather, but I am concerned by the climate," said Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips in an interview with the CBC's Metro Morning.

With summer officially in the past, Phillips says people in Ontario can use facts to back them up when they say that it was the hottest summer ever, a truth that he says could influence the winter ahead.

"May, June, July, August and September, five months in a row, it was the warmest such period in Toronto's history, in 78 years of records at Pearson [International Airport]," Phillips said.

Mother Nature brought the heat

Phillips says increasing variability in Canadian weather is making it more difficult to predict the season ahead. (The Canadian Press)
"We also had 38 days when the temperature reached above 30 degrees, more than the three previous summers all together," Phillips said.

"There were four months where we had temperatures that were at or exceeded 35 degrees, [June, July, August and September]. We've never ever seen that before."

"We've had a lot of days above 35 in the past, but they've been all collected in one month," he said.

Phillips says that while Mother Nature kept bringing the heat, she held back on the rain.

"Of course, we needed more rain to match those temperatures, and we didn't get … if it rained in your front yard, it didn't rain in your backyard," he said.

Phillips says while the hot and dry conditions meant poor harvests for some of Ontario's agricultural producers, other fields benefited.

"Some farmers said I am not even going to harvest, and others said it was the best year ever."

"I mean some crops did well; winter wheat, it was the best on record … grapes have never been better or sweeter, it's kind of a variable situation," said Phillips.

A mild fall, while winter is still up in the air

"A lot of this residual heat in the lakes, the lands and the rivers, we're going to be feeding off for the next couple of months … our models, for October, November, we think it will be milder than normal."

But winter is "a tough call," Phillips said.

"My definition of a Canadian is someone who worries about winter before summer is even over."
A winter versus summer comparison photo captures the difference in seasons in Toronto. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Phillips says the winter ahead could have something in store for everybody.

"[This winter] will start a little soft … and end maybe a little harder," he said.

"But for the ice fishers, the skiers and snowmobilers, and people who don't even like winter, I think there will be something for everybody," Phillips said.

The wild card

Phillips says that even with "all the science and supercomputers," determining the forecast for the winter ahead is even more difficult, due to the variability he says people in Ontario have experienced in their weather, including those hot summer days.

"There is a wild card there, the fact that there are these variable kinds of conditions that nature is throwing at us, that makes seasonal forecasting even more of a challenge than it used to be," he said.

"This year is a little bit of guess, a little bit of a crapshoot," he said.

"Fortunately in my business, Canadians are always forgiving. They recognize the challenge and keep coming back for more."


Kenny Sharpe

CBC News

Kenny Sharpe is a journalist from Atlantic Canada. He reports on daily news with a focus on the environment, mental health and politics. He studied philosophy and psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and has a masters of journalism from Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto.

With files from Metro Morning