Record cold in February caused by arctic air carried by jet stream

A persistent, quasi-stationary high pressure system off the West Coast has caused the jet stream to flow from the northwest down into the southeast, bringing frigid temperatures that have shattered cold weather records in Ontario and Quebec.

'We are basically in record territory,' meteorologist says of frigid temperatures

Environment Canada is predicting chilly temperatures to continue throughout February and into March, according to meteorologist Peter Kimbell. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

A persistent, quasi-stationary high pressure system off the West Coast has caused the jet stream to flow from the northwest down into the southeast, helping to bring frigid temperatures that have shattered cold weather records in Ontario and Quebec, according to a meteorologist at Environment Canada.

"So our air mass has been coming from the Northwest Territories and we've just been experiencing wave after wave of arctic air and that has been continuing for most of February," said Peter Kimbell, warning preparedness meteorologist.

"Meteorologists always point our finger at the jet stream," he said.

And it's not just Ontario and Quebec that have been bearing the brunt of the blast. Temperatures have plunged across the Prairies, Atlantic Canada and into the U.S. 

(Much of Western Canada, on the other hand, has been warmer than normal.)

Kimbell said February temperatures have been seven or eight degrees below average in Ontario and Quebec, sometimes even 10 degrees below. Parts of the Prairies have been four or five degrees below average, while much of Atlantic Canada has also been chillier than normal.

Unfortunately, there is little relief in sight. 

Environment Canada lifted cold weather warnings across Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes throughout the day Tuesday but is still forecasting chilly temperatures for the next few weeks. 

It will be probably be cold throughout February and into the first week of March, possibly into the second, Kimbell said. 

How cold is it?

If you live in Ontario or Quebec and you've thought that maybe it feels colder than usual, you're not wrong. 

February has set a number of cold weather records, including daily temperature records in individual cities. 

Montrealers, for instance, woke up to the coldest Feb. 24 on record this morning with a temperature of –24.6 C, beating the –21.7 C recorded in 1992. 

It's also been a chilly month in terms of number of days below zero. 

Some areas of Ontario, including Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Peterborough and Barrie, are on track to see no days above freezing for the entire month, according to a statement from Environment Canada released Monday. 

"This will set the stage for the first time an entire calendar month has been below freezing in the Kitchener and Toronto Pearson airport areas since February 1978," Environment Canada said.

This month is also on track to be the coldest in Ontario in terms of daily average temperatures since February 1979, Kimbell said. 

"We are basically in record territory," Kimbell said. 

However, some records suggest that 1934 was perhaps the coldest February recorded in the province. 

"For those few sites that actually have records going back into the 1800s, February of 1885 was also pretty cold too," he said. "So we've seen this kind of extreme cold before. It's certainly very rare."

'It's been brutal'

Despite the frigid temperatures, take heart because there is more winter behind us than ahead, according to the senior climatologist at Environment Canada. 

"It's been brutal, you don't need me to tell you that," Dave Phillips said from Florida, where he has been vacationing for the unseasonably cold month of February. 

March is on average five degrees warmer than February, Phillips said, and the days are getting longer.

Kimbell said the only reassurance he can offer Canadians who are sick and tired of the weather is that spring is a little less than a month away and winter will eventually be behind us. 

"It will come and temperatures will warm up," he said, " I'm not entirely sure when, but it will warm up."


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