Well, it finally happened: the cold snap that held us in its grasp for about a month has broken. To be honest, if we had to have a big winter cold snap I would prefer it to be early like we saw this winter, rather than at the end of winter like we had last year. If you are an outdoor person, everything is now frozen up nice and solid and there is good snow cover pretty much everywhere, which means near-perfect conditions to go out and do whatever it is you like to do. Also, should we get more cold weather, we’ll simply be able to brush it off since we are “used to it.” The only downside to the early-winter cold snap is that it really put a damper on outdoor activities over the Christmas break.
One other thing I want to touch on before we tackle the long-range forecasts is the dreaded “g” word: global warming. Every time some part of the world has a spell of cold weather the topic of global warming heats up once again. It is especially bad when the cold weather hits North America, and in particular, the U.S. If there are a couple of weeks of really cold weather, like they just saw, then all of a sudden you start hearing the comments: how could there possibly be global warming if we are seeing such a big cold snap with some record-breaking temperatures?
Well, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this as I have covered this many times in the past. The key word in global warming is “global” — as in, “What are the overall temperatures across the globe doing?” and not simply how North America or the U.S. is doing (North America only makes up five per cent of the Earth’s total area) at one moment in time. No matter what happens with global warming, the high Arctic is going to get cold in the winter — there is no sunshine and thus no input of solar energy. This cold air is, on occasion, going to drop southward. If enough factors line up just right then we can see really cold air move south, just like we’ve seen really warm air move northward (remember March 2012?).
OK, enough of that; let’s look ahead to see what the rest of the winter and early spring might hold in store for us, weather-wise. Let’s start off with Environment Canada. EC’s long-range forecasts show the probability of having colder-than-average temperatures, near-average temperatures, and above-average temperatures. This means temperature forecasts are broken into three categories. We have to keep this in mind when we look at their numbers. For example, the January-to-March forecast shows us as having a 50 per cent chance of seeing below-average temperatures. A number of people see that number and quickly say that there must then be a 50 per cent chance of above-average temperatures. In reality, the remaining 50 per cent of the forecast is split between average temperatures and above-average temperatures. If we simply said each would then have a 25 per cent chance of occurring (which isn’t necessarily true) then there would be a (50+25=) 75 per cent chance of seeing near- to below-average temperatures during this time frame and only a 25 per cent chance of above-average temperatures.
So, it appears that according to EC, the rest of the winter will be on the cold side, but we need to look at its other forecasts to be sure. The next forecast EC makes covers the period of February to April. In this time frame it shows us moving toward average temperatures. This trend continues for the March-to-May time period, then transitions into a warmer-than-average forecast for the April-to-June time period. The way I interpret this is that we’ll see a slow warming trend (compared to average) from now until summer — not a bad forecast.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac shows slightly below-average temperatures for February and March, with a transition to above-average temperatures in April and May. It also predicts a lot of snow in February, followed by a dry March and then a wet April. Over at the Canadian Farmers’ Almanac they appear to call for cold snowy weather in February and March, with a fair bit of talk about very cold weather, snow and storms. The cold, wet weather looks to continue into April, with the mention of very cold weather once again, along with several mentions of rain. May also starts off on the cold and wet side, so all in all, not the best long-range forecast.
Finally, my forecast — actually, I have two different forecasts. The first one is based on what the weather was like in the years that also saw a really cold December. Using this data, it looks like we’ll have a cold and snowy second half to winter. When I crunched the numbers, the February-to-April time frame came in with a 75 per cent or better chance of seeing below-average temperatures and above-average amounts of precipitation (snow). Then there is a rapid change in May, with a 90 per cent chance of above-average temperatures along with near-average amounts of rain.
My second forecast is my gut forecast. This forecast tells me we’ll see a mild second half of winter with near-average amounts of precipitation. This will then transition into well- above-average temperatures as we move into spring, with above-average amounts of precipitation. Now it’s time to sit back, enjoy the weather we do get as best we can, then see who lucks out and gets the forecast right!