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Warm January, cold February?

Prevailing patterns should make it easy for arctic high pressure to migrate south

As the first month of 2018 comes to a close I am stuck trying to figure out what I should write about. By the time you are reading this it will be past the end of the month, so the article should be the usual monthly summary and look ahead. After all, if I wait another week, the look ahead loses some impact since a quarter of February will already be done. I feel I can safely summarize January’s temperatures across the region, but with a possible dump of significant snow expected Jan. 30, the precipitation summary might end up being way off. That said, I think I will do the usual look back and glance forward, holding off on an interesting article I came across about how significant an impact farming practices can have — and have had — on summertime weather.

Looking back at January, it really was the tale of weather having a split personality. Overall, we saw two different weather patterns dominate. It was either sunny, windy and cold, or cloudy and warm. The first week of January was a continuation of the very cold temperatures we saw during the last two weeks of December. Around Jan. 6, the cold snap finally broke and we saw about five days of mild weather. Cold weather then moved back in from the 11th to the 16th, with overnight lows once again falling below -30 C in many locations. Temperatures then quickly rebounded, beginning Jan. 17, with several locations breaking record or near-record highs between the 17th and the 19th. The mild weather continued almost to the end of the month before more seasonable temperatures moved in over the last couple of days.

Overall, when we look at the final averages for the month, the warm weather won out over the cold. All three of our main reporting stations (Winnipeg, Brandon and Dauphin) reported mean monthly temperatures in the -13.5 to -14 C range, about 2 to 3 C warmer than their long-term averages. This makes January 2018 the fourth year in a row with well-above-average monthly temperatures.

As for precipitation, unless the expected Tuesday storm system brings much more snow than expected, we’ll continue to see very dry weather across our region. Up to Jan. 25, all three major locations reported well-below-average amounts of precipitation. The Winnipeg area has been the driest region, with only 1.4 mm of precipitation recorded. Brandon didn’t fare much better with only 4.8 mm. Dauphin had reported only 1.1 mm, but the system that brought varying amounts of snow late last week dumped just over 10 cm, or about 10.9 mm of water equivalent, bringing its monthly total to 11.8 mm, still a couple of millimetres below average. If we don’t see any significant snowfall this week, it looks like dry conditions will predominate for at least the first half of February, with some indications that it could stay dry for most of the month.

Who called it?

That leads us to the February forecast, but as usual, we’ll need to see which forecaster was closest to predicting the warmer- and drier-than-average January weather. Looking back, it appears the majority of the forecasts were on the mark for January. In fact, it is easier to point out the forecasts that were wrong. The Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) both predicted colder-than-average temperatures, with the Canadian Farmers’ Almanac being the lone forecast calling for above-average snowfall.

Now on to February’s forecast. According to Environment Canada, February will be colder than average, especially over central regions, with near-average amounts of snowfall. The Climate Forecast System (CFS) weekly and monthly forecast also calls for below-average temperatures in February. Its latest weekly forecast shows cold temperatures for the first half of February followed by a warmer third week. They then show a return to cold temperatures for the last week of the month.

Moving on to the two almanacs: the Old Farmer’s Almanac calls for temperatures to be a little bit warmer than average, along with precipitation amounts that are a little below average. The Canadian Farmers’ Almanac looks to be calling for colder- than-average temperatures as it uses the words cold and brisk several times in its discussion. It also appears to call for above-average amounts of precipitation as it calls for heavy snow early in the month, with more stormy conditions around the middle of the month.

NOAA’s February forecast shows near-average temperatures and snowfall in February, with colder and wetter conditions expected just to our west across Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Finally, my forecast, based on the pattern we’ve seen over the last month and a half along with what the Global Forecast System (GFS) shows over the next 16 days: it looks like February will end being cold and dry as the atmosphere seems to be slipping in to a pattern that will make it easy for arctic high pressure to migrate southward. It does look like we may see a little moderation in temperatures around the middle of the month before more cold air moves back in. With arctic high pressure dominating, the chances for any major storm systems will be very low.

Here’s hoping you get the type of weather you want to see.

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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