White Christmas unlikely, with a slightly milder winter ahead of us

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With prediction models all over the map, winter will be hard to gauge this year. However, we can expect the season in Waterloo Region to be milder and a little shorter than what we got last year, according to Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips.

“There’ll be moments ahead where we’re reminded where we live: the second coldest country in the world and the snowiest country in the world,” said Phillips. “But my sense is when we come right down to it, add up all the numbers – we won’t be as bad as we were last year.”

While it may have felt differently over the past few months due to the excess precipitation, winter has not yet begun – the official start date arrives tomorrow (December 21).

“Fall is a glorious time of the year,” said Phillips. “People like the fall, and this year we felt cheated; it was short. We went from sweat to slush. Precipitation was up in October, November. It tended to be more of the white stuff than the liquid stuff.”

Indeed, Waterloo Region has already seen more snow than usual, getting between 30-35 cm versus the average 25 cm for this time of year – which was good news for those dreaming of a white Christmas, at least until the recent spate of mild weather, though there are flurries in the forecast.

What’s unique about the 2018/2019 winter season is the presence of an El Niño, warmer portion of a phase known as the El-Niño-Southern oscillation cycle that describes a fluctuation cycle in temperature between the ocean and the atmosphere. The cooler variant of the phrase is called La Niña.

Specifically, the El Niño brings unusually warm water in the Pacific ocean and has a global effect on the climate. However, its presence is relatively weak this time around.

“My sense is this year, because of El Niño, it might be milder than last year,” said Phillips. “It’s not going to be record mild. In a weak El Niño, it’s never record-breaking. It’d have to be a strong episode of El Niño to give us the more Pacific air and the less Arctic air.”

There is really no agreed-upon consensus as to how the next few months are going to go weather-wise.

“From where I sit now and when I look at the different models, the models are all over the place,” said Phillips. “In the American models, it says it’s going to be warmer than normal. The Weather Network said it was going to be colder than normal. So everybody has a different forecast.”

But whatever happens, Phillips maintained that Canadians will be ready for it, as there have already been a fair share of frigid days.

“We’ve already been conditioned. We’ve already had a taste of winter,” said Phillips. “And so I think we put our snow tires on, we know where our snow shovels are, we’ve got the leg warmers out and the parkas. So we’re already acclimatized to whatever nature can give us.”

Get ready to bundle up for the next few months until at least winter’s official end date in late March.