Winter could be warmer, wetter than normal

Winter officially arrives at 11:19 pm Saturday

Don’t wave the white flag at Barrie’s winter season just yet.

Snowing, blowing winter weather this month is surely a sign of things to come for the Barrie area this winter – but the frigid temperatures and accumulations of the white stuff won’t be too much out of the ordinary from December to February.

“There’s been a lot of scary news out there,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change (ECC) Canada, mentioning other weather forecasters. “But we’re saying milder than normal. In all of Ontario – December, January, February – it’s showing warmer than normal.”

From a precipitation point of view, ECC’s models are also showing wetter-than-normal weather during these three months; about 265 centimetres of snow is the norm for a Barrie winter, from the first snowfall to the last.

We’ve had 15 days with at least some snow already in December – 94 centimetres in all. The norm is 37.

“In this case, we’re not sure – more rain or snow. You’re going to see the ground more often,” said Phillips, a Barrie resident. “But we’re certainly going to have snow.”

The ECC forecast is showing high confidence in a warmer winter, he said. 

“Most of the models seem to be powerful in that way. They seem to say no doubt,” Phillips said. “But we know it’s never a certainty. This is not a forecast like the daily forecast. This is an outlook, a seasonal outlook.

“If this forecast was 100% accurate, there will still be moments with cold waves and snow dumps. So more southerly air, more westerly air, less arctic air – but it doesn’t mean zero arctic air. A polar vortex is always something that will make or break winter.”

Ah yes, the dreaded polar vortex.

Phillips says it’s always there in the north, with strong winds blowing counter-clockwise, round and round, from the surface of the earth to the upper atmosphere, which sometimes spills to the south and carries the cold with it.

And a certain type of weather attracts a polar vortex. 

“It’s when you have very little weather, you have no active weather, there’s no storms coming your way, there’s no Alberta clippers,” Phillips said. “This is the kind of lazy, relaxing kind of pattern that you get which allows the polar vortex to spill southward and causes us to be freezing in the dark.

“It’s like an arctic pipeline,” he said. “Arctic air comes southward, it’s resupplied day after day, week after week with the same cold air and you can’t kick it out. Cold air is like molasses: it fills all the nooks and crannies.”

What sends a Polar Vortex packing is a weather system that moves from west to east, Phillips said.

A White Christmas in Barrie? Count on it, even with temperatures above normal for the next few days.

A milder-than-normal winter in the Barrie area could also mean lake-effect snow, or snow squalls, having a longer season, if the lakes stay unfrozen.

“So any cold air that comes across the lake, which is open…is still going to generate the snow,” Phillips said.

The average winter temperature in Barrie from December to February is about -6C, he said, but warmer weather brings other sorts of trouble.

“It puts you in that sweet zone for freezing rain, ice pellets or a mixture of them,” Phillips said, “so you’re never sure what you pray for.

“If you want a milder-than-normal winter, you may end up with the stuff that’s hard to deal with, for driving and power outages, and things like that.”

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images: winter in Barrie’s Shear Park/Bob Bruton