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Sixth-coldest December on record

It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, December 2013 was downright cold! After an average November, most people were looking ahead to a nice December that for most of us would bring some snow and fairly mild temperatures — conditions perfect for getting out and enjoying winter. Well, December started off exactly as everyone hoped. During the first few days highs were in the -5 C range with overnight lows around -12 C. We even saw some snow; everything was perfect! Then, starting on Dec. 5, everything started to change. We saw the first of many bitterly cold ridges of arctic high pressure build into our region, turning what looked to be a nice December into one of the coldest on record.

By Dec. 7, arctic high pressure was in place, and with it came the first really cold air of this winter. Highs were struggling to make it to -20 C, with overnight lows dropping to around -30 C in a number of locations. This cold air remained in place and even intensified over the next seven days, with temperatures plunging to near -40 C in some places by the early morning of Dec. 15. We then saw a warm-up that many of us hoped would spell an end to the cold temperatures. In what was a fairly remarkable swing in temperatures, we saw the thermometer rise to near 0 C on Dec. 16, a 30 to 40 C (55 to 70 F) change in temperatures in less than 30 hours! Along with the milder temperatures also came a little more snow.

The mild weather lasted until Dec. 19, when arctic high pressure built back in, once again dropping temperatures into the -20s for highs and -30s for lows. Fortunately, this shot of cold air didn’t last long as milder air along with a little snow moved in just in time for Christmas. After enjoying a couple of nice warm days with highs peaking near 0 C, on the 27th arctic high pressure once again moved in, bringing the coldest weather of the season to end the month. Preceding the arctic air was an area of low pressure that brought significant snowfall to a number of regions, with total snowfalls of around 10 to 15 cm.

When all the numbers were added up, December at all three of our main centres (Winnipeg, Brandon, Dauphin) came in well below average and were actually quite uniform. Average high temperatures for the month came in around -15.7 C at all three locations, with average overnight lows falling to around -24.9 C. This resulted in a mean monthly temperature that ranged from -20.1 C at Dauphin to -20.9 C at Winnipeg. To put things into perspective, the average mean monthly temperature for southern Manitoba is around -14 C. This places 2013 as the sixth-coldest December since reliable records have been kept. The only colder year in living memory was in 2000, with the third-coldest December on record. Add to it over 40 cm of snow, and December 2000 was a truly horrific month. Other than December 2000 we have to go all the way back to 1893 to find a colder December.

The table you see here lists all of the Decembers that had mean monthly temperatures colder than -20 C. I used Winnipeg’s data for this list as it has the longest period of weather records. I did compare Winnipeg to Brandon and found only one year was different. In 1927, the Brandon region recorded a very cold December, with a mean monthly temperature of -23.3 C. In comparison, Winnipeg saw a mean monthly temperature of -19.4 C that year.

Who called it?

Looking back at the forecasts for December, all of the forecasts called for colder-than-average temperatures along with near- to above-average amounts of snow. Well, we all got the temperature part correct, but precipitation is a little tougher. Overall, precipitation amounts were either near to slightly below average over central and eastern regions, or were below to well-below average over southern and western regions. So, I would have to give the nod to the staff at Environment Canada, as they were the only ones who called for near-average amounts of snow.

Looking ahead to January, EC and the Old Farmer’s Almanac call for below-average temperatures to continue, along with above-average amounts of snow. The folks over at the Canadian Farmers’ Almanac appear to call for temperatures to fluctuate between really cold and warm, resulting in near-average temperatures. They also call for some stormy weather and dry weather, resulting in near-average amounts of snow.

Finally, here at the Co-operator, I am actually on the side of the Canadian Farmers’ Almanac. It looks like we’ll experience some warm and cold snaps during the month, but overall, will end up colder than average. Snowfall will also be sporadic, resulting in near-average amounts of precipitation.

Next issue we’ll look further ahead to see what might be in store for us for the remainder of the winter and early spring.

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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