Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, says our weather expert

Being snowed in at Christmas has many advantages, argues Daniel Bezte, 
but big Yuletide snowstorms are relatively rare

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The holiday season is about traditions, and so it’s time once again to do my traditional look at Christmas weather across the Prairies.

In particular, a look back to see what the warmest and coldest Christmases were, and if there have ever been big Christmas snowstorms.

I’ve shared this with you before, but at this time of the year I always have a secret hope or wish that there will be a big snowstorm over Christmas. I know that a big storm at this time of the year would cause all sorts of problems and hardships, but deep down inside I guess I just wish that I could be stuck at home for a few days. No pressure to go anywhere because you can’t, plenty of food available, family around you, and new presents under the tree. A perfect time to be forced to sit back and just relax — at least until you have to dig yourself out!

For this look-back, I have explored the weather data for the main reporting centres across all three Prairie provinces. I went back as far as the weather records go for each of the stations, which includes data from the late 1800s. Some people like to argue that this older data shouldn’t count and for some reason it is not seen as reliable. Sometimes I think it’s actually the opposite.

Prairie weather records for Dec. 24-26
Prairie weather records for Dec. 24-26

Back then people took weather just a seriously as some of us do today, if not more seriously, and they were often very meticulous about recording daily weather. Today it isn’t surprising to check out daily weather data for a major reporting centre only to discover that some of the days are missing data, usually because of a computer or sensor glitch that wasn’t caught.

The easiest way to show the weather records for the days around Christmas is in a table. This week’s table shows the maximum and minimum temperatures recorded in degrees celsius, along with the maximum snowfall for Dec. 24-26 for Winnipeg, Brandon, Regina, Edmonton, and Calgary. If you look at the table you’ll see that if you are looking for a place to go in the Prairies to experience a really warm Christmas, then Calgary would be it. While all of the other centres have seen some nice warm Christmases, not one comes close to Calgary’s record highs. The year 1999 was a really warm one across the entire Prairies, with record warm temperatures being set in every major centre except Saskatoon that year.

If you want a chance at seeing some really cold weather during this period, then you could pick pretty much any place, as all have seen Christmases colder than -35 C. But Winnipeg comes out the winner here with an absolutely ridiculous temperature of -47.8 C on Christmas Eve in 1879.

Interestingly, when you examine the precipitation records for these three days you’ll notice that the Christmas period has been a relatively dry, storm-free period.

But there are a couple of exceptions. Winnipeg saw a heavy dump of 30.5 centimetres on Boxing Day back in 1916, but the record for biggest Christmas snowstorms has to go to Edmonton. In 1938, the Alberta capital recorded more than 25 centimetres of snow on Christmas Eve and then a further 18 centimetres on Christmas day, for a total of 43 centimetres. That Christmas Eve started off nice in Edmonton with temperatures climbing to around 4 C before the snow moved in. By the 28th of December the temperature had plunged, with overnight lows falling into the low -40 C range. This same storm tracked southeastwards across the Prairies, bringing record one-day snowfalls to Saskatoon, Brandon, and Winnipeg.

While I’m sure there have been plenty of stormy days near Christmas across the Prairies, very few really big storms have occurred. Looking at the current long-range forecast this year, we may have a chance at changing this since the weather models are trying to bring in energy from the Pacific beginning about a week before Christmas.

Whatever weather you do end up with, I hope it is what you wanted, if not, then remember the season and try to make the best of it!

This article first appeared on the Manitoba Co-operator.

About the author

AF Contributor

Daniel Bezte

Daniel Bezte is a teacher by profession with a BA (Hon.) in geography, specializing in climatology, from the University of Winnipeg. He operates a computerized weather station near Birds Hill Park, Manitoba.

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