January 2019 has come and gone so we are now well over halfway through winter — at least across the Prairies. As I’ve noted in the past, official or climatological “winter” encompasses the three months of December, January and February. For our part of the world it would have to be a really warm and unusual year for that definition of winter to work. Instead, winter across the Prairies tends to be a little longer and can usually be defined as the five-month period from November to the end of March. Either way, we are now well into the last half of winter, which means it’s time to take a look back at how this winter has been shaping up across the Prairies.
Looking back at November, it was a cold start to winter across Manitoba with temperatures running a good 3 to 4 C below average. It was a little warmer across Saskatchewan, with November temperatures coming in near to slightly below average. In Alberta, after a colder-than-average October, November saw temperatures turn around and by the end of the month readings were running from 1 to 2 C above average for the month.
Alberta’s warm November temperatures spread across all three Prairie provinces in December. Both Alberta and Manitoba saw mean monthly temperatures that were about 2 C above average. Saskatchewan was the warm spot compared to average, with monthly temperatures running 3 to 4 C above average. December’s warm temperatures continued into the first week or two of January before the bottom fell out across Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan. A split in the polar vortex allowed some of the coldest air in decades to drop southward into eastern North America, bringing a prolonged cold snap to the eastern half of the Prairies. By the end of the month the mild start was wiped out and the final mean monthly temperatures across Manitoba came in 1 to 2 C below average.
The western Prairies did not feel the effect of the polar vortex, with mean monthly temperatures across all of Alberta running from 3 to 4 C above the long-term average. In between, Saskatchewan experienced temperatures near to slightly above average.
When all these monthly results are averaged out, then compared to long-term averages, it turns out that so far it has been a fairly mild winter across most of the Prairies. Not surprisingly, Alberta has seen a very mild winter so far, with the November to January mean temperature coming in at 1.5 to 3 C above average. Saskatchewan was a little cooler, with mean temperatures across this period coming in around 1.5 C above average. Manitoba, thanks to the cooler-than-average November and the brutal late-January cold snap, has been the cold spot this winter, with a mean winter temperature to the end of January ranging from 0.5 C below average across eastern regions, to just over 1 C below average over northwestern areas.
As for precipitation, northern and central Alberta saw near- to above-average amounts while southern regions were a little below average. Saskatchewan saw near- to above-average amounts in the north while central and southern regions saw below-average amounts. Meanwhile, Manitoba saw below- to well-below-average amounts.
Looking back at the different winter forecasts, it would appear that the CFS weather model has done the best job of forecasting this winter’s weather, at least so far. Its forecast called for a warm December and January followed by a cool-down to below-average temperatures in late January and the first half of February. It also called for near-average amounts of precipitation. Most of the other forecasts either called for warm and dry weather or cold and snowy.
April is anyone’s guess
Now it’s time to look ahead to see what the final 1-1/2 to two months of winter may have in store for us this year. Will the mild air return, or are we going to have to pay for the milder-than-average December and part of January?
Starting with the almanacs, the Old Farmer’s Almanac calls for a warm and dry February followed by a cold and snowy March. The Canadian Farmers’ Almanac calls for a much colder-than-average February and March along with near-average amounts of precipitation in February and well-above-average amounts in March.
On to Environment Canada and the CanSIP weather model. Its current three-month forecast for February to April is calling for below-average temperatures along with near-average amounts of precipitation across the southern half of the Prairies and above-average amounts over the northern half. The latest CFS monthly forecast calls for below-average temperatures and precipitation in February, above-average temperatures and near-average amounts of precipitation in March, and above-average temperatures and below-average amounts of precipitation in April.
Lastly, here is my kick at the forecast. I’m going with a continuation of the cold weather for February along with below-average amounts of snow. March will begin with near-average temperatures before moderating to above-average temperatures during the second half of the month. Along with the switch to milder temperatures we will see an increase in precipitation, with March coming in around average by the end of the month. April, at this point, is anyone’s guess. If I had to make a guess I would go with near- to slightly above-average temperatures along with below-average amounts of precipitation.