“Piercing Cold;” “Biting Cold”; “Bitterly Cold”; “Cold, Wet, & White.” These are some of the terms we used to define last winter’s weather, supporting our statement that “The Days of Shivery are Back!”
And Shiver We Did!
Almanac readers and the media agreed that our predictions and warnings of a very cold and snowy winter were on target. With the exception of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon, it was an incredibly cold winter.
Below-average temperatures dominated across much of North America during the winter of 2013–2014. Some locations experienced temperatures as low as 5°C below the 1981–2010 average. Last year the infamous polar vortex frequently plunged temperatures to -20°C or lower, and an active storm track covered many cities and towns under mounds of snow. A cold and snowy pattern persisted into early spring.
The Cold, Hard Facts
The three coldest months—December, January, and February—are regarded as “meteorological winter.” The winter of 2013–14 kicked off in December with parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba experiencing temperatures 4 to 5.6°C below normal.
In January, a most interesting weather dichotomy developed. Across western Canada it was unseasonably warm with temperatures ranging from 4 to 11°C above normal. Meanwhile over eastern Canada, temperatures averaged 1/2 to 1°C below normal.
On to February and old man winter reasserted himself, bringing below-normal temperatures to more than 90% of Canada. With arctic air stalling over much of North America, temperatures in the Arctic were generally warmer than normal in February. The only section of the nation that experienced milder-than-normal temperatures was in the northern extremity of North America over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Compared to seasonal norms, the coldest place in Earth’s atmosphere in February was over the southwestern corner of Canada’s Saskatchewan province near the town of Eston, where temperatures were as much as 4.7°C cooler than seasonal norms.
And the persistent cold during the winter caused 91% of the Great Lakes to be frozen by early March, the second largest ice cover on record.
How Our Forecasts Fared
We had warned of rain, ice, and snow for Ontario by Christmas Eve as mild air from the south overran cold air from the north, but the wintry precipitation arrived a few days ahead of schedule. Hydro One, which serves mostly rural areas, reported over 130,000 power outages at the height of the storm. The areas particularly hard hit include areas along the shores of Lake Ontario. In Trenton, which lies just east of the Greater Toronto Area, there was a reported 3cm of ice accumulation on the ground. The ice accumulation across southern and eastern Ontario was severe enough to result in widespread power outages due to fallen trees and branches, and numerous vehicle pile-ups on Highway 401. The town of Woolwich declared a state of emergency on December 22nd after it was determined that they would be without power for at least 24 hours. Elsewhere in Ontario, thousands of customers remained without power well after Christmas Day. Hundreds of thousands of Toronto residents woke up without electricity on December 22nd, after an overnight ice storm knocked down trees and power lines, causing outages across the city.
We were right on target with our forecast of a wintry coastal system for Quebec and the Maritimes in the January 1st–3rd timeframe. Parts of Newfoundland and Labrador saw up to 40cm of snow, while Nova Scotia received as much as 20cm.
In fairness, we were not “spot on” everywhere. Over British Columbia we were banking overall on a drier-than-normal winter. That forecast looked awfully good during December, but during January and February the dry weather abruptly ended with a series of storms moving in from the Pacific. Interestingly, however, one of the more significant of storms, that of January 9th–10th, was also a spot-on forecast for us. Those winter storms were welcome news for B.C. ski resorts which had been suffering through one of the barest winters in recent memory.