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Get used to the snow: it’s likely here to stay

Waterloo Region finally got its first major dose of winter on Sunday night as upwards of 15 centimetres fell in the region, causing ice and blowing snow to blanket the area highways.

Thankfully, the region has seen only a fraction of the lake-effect snow that buried London last week, and closed a section of highway 402 near Sarnia after nearly 300 motorists were trapped in their cars earlier this week.

In fact, it has been a relatively quiet start to winter. The region normally sees 14 cm of snow in November, but this year Environment Canada says it recorded only two cm during the month. December has started out much the same as well, and as of last Monday the airport had only recorded about 2.6 cm for the month, with average accumulation for the month around 38 cm.

Despite the slow start, winter is on its way and residents shouldn’t expect to keep their snow shovels idle for long.

Meteorologists expect this winter to experience average snowfall and temperatures from now through to March.

An average temperature for January is -7, in February it is -6.4, and in March it is -1.2. Typically, January also sees 44 cm of snow, February experiences 31 cm, and March receives 24 cm of snow.

“We’re looking at temperatures, on average, a little bit colder than that, and precipitation-wise the outlook at this point is around normal levels of precipitation,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson.

Last year, most of southern Ontario experienced far less snow than normal – up to 50 per cent less accumulation in some areas, Coulson said – due to the El Nino effect, the influence of warmer-than-average waters off the west coast of South America. Warmer Pacific Ocean waters tend to shift the jet stream north, meaning a warmer winter with less snow in Canada.

This year, however, the opposite will occur.

“We have a La Nina event, and La Nina doesn’t necessarily have as much of a direct linkage to what the winters will be like in southern Ontario,” explained Coulson. “That is why this year we’re more confident in saying that we’re going to have more of a winter than last year.”

Coulson also noted that trying to predict the long-range forecast of the region can be an inexact science.

“Even though the long-term trend is near-normal temperature and near-normal precipitation, that definitely doesn’t preclude the wild swings we know we can get in the area.

“(Waterloo Region) can experience periods of very mild conditions, temperatures well above zero into the January and February timeframe, but by the same token we can lock in with some pretty cold, arctic air masses that dominate, and the Kitchener-Waterloo region can get significant snow events or fairly cold periods as well.”

The good news for area-residents is that it is likely going to be a white Christmas, according to senior climatologist David Phillips.

“All you need for a white Christmas is two centimeters in your back yard on Christmas morning,” he said. “They’re calling for normal conditions in the area, so you’re not going to lose what (snow) you’ve got; you’re only going to add to it.”

Phillips echoed Coulson’s sentiment by adding that it is always difficult to predict the weather so far in advance, and that it can change very quickly – for better, or for worse.

“What we’re talking about is still about a week away, and the world can change dramatically. Especially in Ontario,” he said, adding that it is also too soon to know what the travel conditions were going to be like over the holidays.

“The storms haven’t even been born yet so how can we speculate about it?” he said. “At the beginning of next week we will be in a better position to say.”

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