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How we dodged a weather bullet

Did anyone really want a huge dump of snow just before the spring melt gets underway?

For a while last week, it was looking like our worst spring fears were going to come true as two large and fairly powerful Colorado lows were predicted to hit southern Manitoba. If you follow any of the forecast models, were listening to CBC or read the Prairie weather discussion, then you too might have been getting a little excited about what the weather models were predicting for the middle of this week.

Starting around last Tuesday, the weather models started to show an extremely powerful Colorado low forming around the middle of this week and then tracking almost due northward, bringing heavy snow and high winds to most of southern and parts of central Manitoba. At one point, some of the weather models were predicting upward of 30 to 50 cm of snow from this system. Usually, when a storm system is being predicted seven to eight days out, forecasters don’t get overly excited, but this situation was a little bit different.

First, there was a very strong agreement between the various weather models, which is fairly unusual. Second, for several days in a row, the various weather models were keeping the system strong and on track to hit our part of the world. Finally, why at least I got a little excited or worried was that this setup reminded me of another late-season storm: the April snowstorm of 1997. I distinctly remember how the weather models had predicted that system a good seven days ahead of time and that system also took a track that was almost identical to what was being forecast for this system.

So, weather forecasters had enough indicators to be worried; after all, we really didn’t need or want a huge dump of snow just before the spring melt gets underway. By last Friday the first indication of a possible change in the storm track appeared in the weather models. By Saturday all the weather models were now tracking the storm more to our south and east, a track much like the Colorado low that brought five to 15 cm of snow across extreme southeastern regions of Manitoba last Saturday. As Sunday evening rolled around, the weather models continued with the notion of southeastern Manitoba just receiving a glancing blow.

Hopefully, by the time you are reading this (remember, I have to have this to my editor by Monday, March 11), the weekend forecast for a more southerly and easterly track has come true and all we have to deal with is a little bit of cloud and wind, but no big snowstorm.

Blob of goo

A second weather topic that cropped up once again is the whole idea that since we (much of southern Canada and the northern U.S.) have been so cold, how on earth can there be global warming? I don’t know how many times I must argue this point: the key word here is “global,” not North America, not Canada, not Manitoba warming! In an article a few years ago, I discussed how you can visualize the cold air around the Earth’s poles as a blob of goo. The cold air sags southward and is pushed northward depending on several different factors. The key to this visualization or analogy is that there is only so much of the goo, or cold air. If cold air is allowed to sag southward in one part of the world, as we saw across North America in February, then it’s likely that warm air surged northward in another part of the world. Looking back at February, this is exactly what we find.

As the core of arctic air shifted into the Hudson Bay region in February, bringing some of the coldest weather we have seen in the last 20 years, across a large part of Europe very unseasonably warm air moved in, breaking numerous records for early-season heat. In North America, during the cold snap, three all-time record lows were recorded, as shown in Table 1 (above).

In contrast, during the final few days of February (Feb. 26-28), several stations either tied or broke not just station records but national monthly records, as shown in Table 2 (below).

Of interest, on Feb. 27, the mean monthly temperature for all of France was 21.3 C, which was the warmest February day on record.

Europe was not the only place to see record heat. Looking at the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand and Australia ended up seeing record-breaking heat during their summer. While not a lot of all-time records were broken, the heat was continuous and long lasting. January ended up being the warmest month ever recorded for Australia, while the December-to-February period (summer) saw a mean temperature that was 2.14 C above average, shattering the previous record set in 2012-13 by nearly 0.7 C. Things were also very warm across Chile in early February, with 10 all-time records broken from Feb. 1 to 4. Thanks to Christopher C. Burt and the WeatherUnderground for these stats.

So, remember, while we might feel like we are the whole world, we are not — and while we were cold, a much larger part of the planet was way warmer than we were cold.

About the author

Co-operator contributor

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

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