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Canada's top ten weather stories of 2013

9. Prairie Winter Went on Forever

Figure 9a. Map of Canada. Click to see large map.

Environment Canada considers the months of December through February as winter. Tell that to Canadians on the Prairies, where cold, snow and ice went on for seven months from October 2012 to April 2013, inclusive – the longest and coldest period in 16 years. Snows came early, stayed late and never disappeared. As a result, it felt and looked like winter from before Thanksgiving to a month after Easter. And with deep snow on the ground any warm-up was stalled until late May. At times, March and April felt colder than January and February. Perhaps the cruelest day of many was the first day of spring on March 20, which started a period of 30+ days of below normal temperatures. Also on that day, snow on the ground was at record or near-record depths:  Fort McMurray 51 cm; Peace River 33 cm; Regina 107 cm; Weyburn 32 cm; Brandon 77 cm; and Winnipeg 55 cm. Entrenched Arctic air combined with an unseasonably late snow cover led to new record minimum temperatures day-after-day well into spring. For example, Regina’s minimum temperature on April 29 was the coldest in Canada – more typical of temperatures at the end of January. In fact, it was the coldest April 29 since record-keeping began in 1884. Snow cover in Regina made the record books too! On April 1 and 25, the city’s snow cover measured 62 cm and 30 cm respectively – the most ever recorded on those days since observations began in 1955.

Hay bales covered with snow in a snow covered field.

Other highlights from winter’s seven-month stretch included: 

  • Humongous snowfalls – from Grande Prairie to Winnipeg, snowfall consistently averaged between 50 and 100 per cent above normal. Regina owned bragging rights to snowfall amounts, with one weather station measuring seasonal snowfall at 207 cm – more than any other winter going back to 1883. The previous extreme was 195 cm in winter 1955-56. On average, the city experiences one or two days a year with more than 10 cm of snowfall. This year, there were nine days with amounts ranging from 10 to 20 cm.
  • Record snow depth and endurance – on April 19, snow on the ground varied widely across Saskatchewan but generally measured 30 to 60 cm – likely the deepest since records began in 1955. Some areas went into May with snow on the ground. Although there’s been snowfall in May and June before it’s never stayed on the ground for so long. Of note, a weather station 25 km north of Edmonton had snow cover on 170 consecutive days from November 8 to April 26.
  • Persistent cold – between March 1 and April 30, the average temperature in Regina was -8°C; eleven degrees colder than the previous year and the coldest period in 113 years. Saskatoon recorded its second coldest March-April in 65 years. Further, residents didn’t see temperatures above 10°C for 189 consecutive days − the longest stretch on record. And the city had a whopping 57 days with temperatures below -20°C compared to just 15 cold days last year. In Winnipeg, the average temperature finally climbed above freezing for the first time in 25 weeks on April 26. The mean temperature for that month was -2.1°C, tying for the third coldest since records began in 1872. Edmonton International Airport reported 50 days with minimum temperatures below -20°C, compared to 20 such days last year. Between October 16 and April 24 there was only one day without a freezing temperature (January 15) spanning more than six months.
Prairie dog peeking out of its hole surrounded by snow.

After more than half a year of tough winter weather Prairie residents were clearly fed up, feeling both its physical and psychological strains. An inordinate number of people of all ages suffered broken legs, ankles and worse while navigating the frozen terrain. And, sadly, the long harsh winter doubled the number of cases of animal neglect as reported by the Saskatchewan SPCA. Winterkill was also partly to blame for a huge loss of bees in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The prolonged winter was especially costly for governments. By the end of January, Saskatchewan had already spent $6 million more than usual on snow and ice control with much more to come. Bitterly cold temperatures at the end of January played a part in setting a new record for power usage in the province as residents spent 10 per cent more on energy to stay warm and comfortable. The unusually late arrival of warm weather delayed the start of seeding by at least two weeks, and increased concern about the possibility of even longer delays because of the likelihood of widespread spring flooding.

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