Warm January, cold February?

From some of the comments I’ve been hearing over the last couple of weeks you would think that January must have been on track to be one of the coldest Januaries ever. It seems as if one week of really cold weather has created one horribly cold winter! I guess everyone has already forgotten about the first 10 days of January when the temperatures across much of southern Manitoba peaked in the +3 C range on at least three different days.

When you think about it, it does make some sense that some people feel January was a really cold month. If we look back over the last couple of years we really haven’t seen much in the way of cold winter weather. In fact, we have to go back to January 2011 to find the last time most areas saw temperatures colder than -35 C.

So, just how cold was January 2012? Well, the only official data I have to work with are Winnipeg’s, as both Brandon and Dauphin are not reporting data online. Hopefully for next month I will be able to access a new data source and will be able to make a more detailed examination of temperatures across the region. Based on Winnipeg’s data, January 2012’s mean daily temperature actually came out a full 1° above the long-term average. The Winnipeg region has a mean daily high temperature of -11 C with a mean overnight low temperature of -22.3 C giving an average temperature of -16.7 C.

As I pointed out earlier, the first 10 days of the month were very mild, with highs breaking into the pluses on several days. Over the following week temperatures cooled down to more seasonable values. Then on Jan. 19 to 20, the bottom fell out as the first significant cold snap since the winter of 2010-11 hit. We saw overnight lows plunge into the mid-minus 30s with some locations (including that of yours truly) seeing lows close to -40 C. This was a true winter cold snap, with daytime highs struggling to get to -20 C. The last week of the month saw milder weather before a reinforcing shot of cold air moved back in on the last day of the month.

The cold snap we saw in January wasn’t unusual by any means, and as far as I was able to tell no records were broken. There was, however, something a little strange or unusual about the cold snap: the snow that we had while it was occurring. Usually, when cold arctic air moves in, the strong high pressure that accompanies it keeps any precipitation out of the region. This year we seemed to see a series of lows and highs rapidly moving through our region bringing a few centimetres of snow every couple of days. Combine these snowfalls with a heavier dump of snow earlier in the month, and January ended up recording about 30 millimetres of water-equivalent snowfall, which is about 10 mm more than average.

Who called it?

This means that overall, January 2012 was warmer and wetter than average. Looking back at the different predictions, it appears no one was able to call it right. The closest two were Environment Canada and the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which both called for near- to slightly above-average temperatures and near-average amounts of precipitation.

Now we’ll move onto February’s forecast. Environment Canada calls for above-average temperatures for regions south of the Trans-Canada Highway and near-average temperature north of this line. Its precipitation forecast is opposite to that of the temperature, with a call for near-average amounts in the far south with above-average amounts over central and northern regions.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts colder-than-average conditions over the eastern Prairies, with above-average temperatures over western regions. It also predicts precipitation amounts will be light, with only five millimetres expected during the month.

Looking to the good folks over at the Canadian Farmers’ Almanac, it appears they call for below-average temperatures for February as they use the words cold and brisk several times to describe the month. They do mention some light snow or flurries here and there, with a chance of stormy weather around the 19th, so I think I would have to say they call for near- to below-average amounts of precipitation.

Finally, here at the Co-operator, I once again have the advantage of making my monthly forecast a couple of days into the month. With the cold start to the month and the medium-range weather models not showing any major warm-ups over the next couple of weeks, I would have to say the odds of having a below-average month, temperature-wise, look pretty good. The medium-range models also don’t show any significant storm systems affecting our region, so I’ll have to go with us seeing below-average amounts of snow. Now, as always, it’s time to sit back and see what will happen!

About the author

Co-operator contributor

Daniel Bezte

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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