The “Upside-Down” Winter In North America

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Daniel Bezte has a special interest in farm weather, which he follows from a small farm near Winnipeg, where he has his own computerized weather station. He has been a regular contributor to other farm publications including the Farmers’ Independent Weekly and the Manitoba Co-operator. Daniel has a degree in geography, specializing in climatology, from the University of Winnipeg.

He welcomes questions and comments at[email protected]Environment Canada was nice enough to do some of the work for me this week. I pointed out in the last issue that this week we would take a look ahead to see what weather Mother Nature might have in store for us this spring and early summer, and along with that I always like to take a look back and tally up how the winter was.

If we take a look at the winter of 2009-10 from the big-picture point of view, I think Dr. Jeff Master summed it up perfectly when he named this the “upside-down winter.” From a North American point of view that is exactly what this winter was like. The United States recorded its coldest winter in 25 years and overall it was the 18th coldest ever recorded. The coldest reading (compared to long-term averages) was the extreme south, where Texas had its fifth-coldest winter ever and Florida recorded its ninth.

Up here in Canada, things were anything but cold this winter. Canada as a whole recorded its warmest winter ever. The only part of Canada that wasn’t above average was the extreme southern Prairies, especially southern Saskatchewan. I have included Environment Canada’s map of winter temperature anomalies across Canada. From this map you can really see just how much above average the temperatures were, especially up north. When it was all added up the country as a whole came in 4 C above average, which beat out the

3.9 C recorded in the winter of 2005-06.

Along with the mild winter weather came below-average precipitation across Canada. The second map shows the winter precipitation departure from normal across Canada. Northcentral and parts of northeastern Canada did see above-average amounts, while central Quebec and western Manitoba saw near-average amounts. Otherwise, over the rest of the country, it was a dry winter. All-in-all, this winter turned out to be a very typical El Nino winter – warm and dry.

No correlation

Now, the million dollar question: what does this mean for spring and early summer weather? According to Environment Canada and pretty much every expert out there, there is no statistical correlation with winter conditions and what the summer will be like. Even if we end up having an El Nino summer, they do not behave as predictably as the El Nino winters. That said, here is what some of our long-range forecasters have to say about this spring and summer.

Starting off with Environment Canada, they predict near-to above-average conditions for the April to June period over pretty much all of Canada. It is interesting that statistically, EC is only correct less than 50 per cent of the time over southern regions for these forecasts.

Our next long range forecaster is the Old Farmers Almanac. They seem to be stuck in a cold pattern as they are calling for cold conditions this April, and below-average temperatures all the way through to June. Along with the cold temperatures they are calling for lots of precipitation. April will be a little above average while May and June will be very wet.

At the Canadian Farmers Almanac they are calling for what I can only describe as “fair” weather from April through to June. Reading the forecast for this period they used the word “fair” eight times, and it isn’t a long read. It also appears that we will see near-to above-average precipitation as they mention showers and a few unsettled and stormy periods with dangerous thunderstorms across the prairies in late June.

Finally, here at Alberta Farmer, I am the only one that is going in the opposite direction. I am calling for warmer-than-average conditions to continue right through spring and into the summer. This doesn’t mean we won’t see any more cold weather; it’s just that the warm weather will win out most of the time.

Along with the warm conditions I feel it is going to be on the dry side. Some areas will see above-average rainfall but they will be isolated as the rain will mostly come from convective episodes (thundershowers and storms). The reason I am going with this forecast is that over the last 10-20 years, the years that started off warm tended to stay warm right through into the summer, so to heck with all the statistics from Environment Canada and the other experts out there – we are going to be warm, and for those in central Alberta it would sure be nice if there were some timely rains.

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