Winter in Canada: Snowpocalypse to shirtsleeves

It was the warmest of winters, it was the coldest of winters. British Columbians jogged shirtless while East Coasters shivered through storm after storm. On this last day of winter, we reflect back on the season that was in Canada.

Contrast between balmy West and cold, snowy East seldom seen

The winter of 2014-15 was marked by pounding snowstorms in the Atlantic provinces, a deep freeze across Ontario and Quebec and warm weather in the West. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

It was a tale of two winters across Canada, as snowstorms pounded the Atlantic provinces and unusually warm temperatures spurred an early thaw on the West Coast, says David Phillips, Environment Canada senior climatologist.

Today is the last day of winter, a season where the divergence between the two coasts was profound, as British Columbians jogged shirtless while East Coasters shivered through storm after storm. And in the far North, Iqaluit saw records felled by the deep freeze.

"Seldom have we seen a winter of marked weather contrasts from coast to coast," Phillips said.

"Ontario and Quebec suffered through lengthy deep freezes, especially in February when monthly temperatures averaged seven to nine degrees colder than normal with not a single melting day in most cities. For the Maritimes it was the year of snowpocalypse with storm after storm. In the far West, it verged on the year without winter."

Here are some of his highlights of the wild winter that was, from coast to coast.

An astounding 463 cm of snow fell in Charlottetown through the middle of March, said Phillips. He noted the previous seasonal record of 372.6 cm was set in 1964-65. February brought heavy snowstorms, including a two-day blizzard that dropped 87 cm over the city

But the snowiest spot in the country was Cow Head, N.L., over which 603 cm fell. The town typically receives a norm of 282 cm.

Saint John, N.B.: 33,000 truckloads of snow

A series of heavy snowstorms battered New Brunswick including Saint John, which in late February declared of a state of emergency as snowplows laboured to clear clogged streets.

A total of 432 cm of snow fell on the city this, surpassing the 1962-63 record by four cm.

Just how much is that? "Some wit worked out that over the last five years the city hauled a [yearly] average of 2,700 truckloads of snow away," said Phillips. "This year to date, it’s been about 33,000."
A cold front that settled over central and eastern North America in February sent cold-weather records tumbling. (David Stephenson/Associated Press)

A stubborn Arctic air mass settled over central and eastern North America in February, sending temperatures plummeting.

Moncton marked its coldest February with an average temperature of –13.6 C while Goose Bay, N.L., averaged a record-setting –22 C.

Ontario and Quebec suffered through their coldest February in 115 years, as temperature records fell in Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, London, Kitchener-Waterloo and Windsor.

Torontonians also had to bundle up, padding themselves with an extra layer, as the average temperature registered –12.6 C, eight degrees colder than normal.

Iqaluit also broke cold-weather records in January and February. On average, temperatures typically fall below -35 C on 20 days over the two months. This winter, there were twice as many cold days, says Phillips.

Lethbridge beats Los Angeles

A warm air mass from Hawaii, dubbed the Pineapple Express, crossed over the Pacific Coast and western Prairies, triggering temperate conditions in January. In fact, towards the end of the month, Lethbridge, Alta., was warmer than sunny Los Angeles, reaching 20 C.

Warm-weather records fell in Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Pincher Creek, Edmonton, Cold Lake, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Lloydminster and Slave Lake.

Flowers thrived during British Columbia’s warm winter, during which the average temperature in Victoria was 6.3 C. That's 1.7 degrees warmer than normal. Vancouver received just a dusting of snow (two cm) over the entire winter.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba are enjoying warmer than normal weather, but cool temperatures will linger in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada until mid-April, said Phillips.

"It’s like winter continues on — not as brutally cold, not like February cold — but still a degree or so below what you normally would expect for the next month," he said.

"Spring is going to arrive slowly."


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