Environment Canada's Senior Climatologist is calling for a milder than normal winter for southern Manitoba.
David Phillips says the El Nino arrived about six months earlier than what is typically the case. And, for those who prefer warmer winters, Phillips says all signs are pointing towards that.
"What is sort of interesting is that the forecast from Environment Canada, from the National Weather Service in the United States and even from the private sector The Weather Network, they are all singing from the same song sheet," he says. "We think this winter will be warmer than normal."
Phillips reminds us that an El Nino is the result of a warm pool of water along the Pacific coast of South America, around Ecuador and Peru. He notes the water there is very warm and can stay that way for one year or longer, producing a milder winter for us here in Canada.
And though an El Nino has never cancelled winter in southern Manitoba, Phillips says it can certainly create much tamer conditions, as was the case the last time we experienced one, back in 2015/16. He notes that winter, temperatures averaged three degrees warmer than normal for southern Manitoba, which is considerable. Further to that, there were 33 days that winter when the temperature dropped to -20 degrees, which is much fewer than the 52 days that we normally feel here.
"Far fewer of those really brutally, punishing, cold kind of days," he adds.
Phillips says it is more difficult during an El Nino winter to forecast how much snow a particular region can expect. He notes even if it is milder than normal, it can still be below zero, and if you get some moist systems coming up from the south that bump into the cold air, you can get snow. According to Phillips, our El Nino winter of 2015/16 saw 10 per cent more snow than normal in southern Manitoba.
Phillips says one thing that is not really impacted by an El Nino winter, is the number of Colorado Lows that might rip through southern Manitoba. He acknowledges that a Colorado Low can strike fear in the hearts of Manitobans but says it is very difficult to know how frequently they might roll through this winter.
"Two years ago, we had a whole flock of these Colorado Lows," recalls Phillips. "They were lined up like jumbo jets in the airport tarmac, coming one after another."
But he notes the models are too coarse to squeeze out any indication as to what sort of impact our El Nino winter might have on these storm systems.
Meanwhile, just as he forecast three months ago, Phillips says we are coming through a fall in southern Manitoba that was warmer than normal. In fact, he says the month of September was about four degrees warmer than normal, while October was more than one degree warmer and November nearly three degrees warmer. Phillips notes the month we came through was the warmest November in about seven years.
Phillips says there were no days where the temperature dropped below -20 degrees in either October or November. He notes the coldest night this season has been -19.4 degrees, back on November 27th. A week earlier it had been 10 degrees Celsius and Phillips says it is this yo-yo personality that we will likely continue to see going forward.
As for precipitation, Phillips says the months of September, October and November produced about 80 per cent of normal for southern Manitoba.
Phillips says our warmer weather can probably be attributed not only to the early onset of El Nino, but also to the fact that we have next to no snow on the ground.
"Snow begets the cold and so when you don't have the snow, then those kind of coolish kind of air masses get tempered somewhat and moderated," explains Phillips. "But if you have the snow, a great insulator, then it shields the air from any heat that would be in the ground or the lakes or the rivers at this time."
However, Phillips is quick to point out that just because the ground is mostly brown today, that does not mean this trend will continue for another three and a half weeks.
"I would always bet death and taxes and white Christmas for southeastern Manitoba," he says.
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