As February came to a slushy close, many people are looking forward to spring and wondering what kind of weather it will bring with it.
While the specifics of the upcoming spring are unknown, Environment Canada is certain of one thing – El Nino has influenced the winter, which in turn, will affect the spring.
“As we have been trying to emphasize to people all throughout the fall is that El Nino is here and the effects of El Nino typically only kick in mid-January. And true to form, it was pretty much bang on schedule. January 15 we had our first pineapple express of the season and it’s been quite mild ever since then,” said Matt MacDonald, a meteorologist with Environment Canada in an interview with The Free Press. “Look at the high today [Feb. 18] in Fernie – it was expected to be six degrees.
Normal for this time of year is a high of zero. We have been consistently four or five degrees warmer than normal for about the last month. I would expect those conditions to continue.”
MacDonald said El Nino has brought in record temperatures for February and he wouldn’t be surprised if the data shows it was the warmest one on record.
“El Nino is very present. El Nino referring to how warm the ocean temperatures are in the equatorial pacific,” he said. “It was indeed the strongest El Nino on record – records only going back to 1950, so in the past 65 years it is the strongest El Nino we have ever observed. What does that mean for British Columbia – it means warmer than normal conditions and I think that is playing out exactly as we would have expected.”
In the fall, Environment Canada predicted the winter would be close to average for November and December before El Nino caused temperatures to warm near mid-January. This is apparent in the ski conditions at resorts across the province, including Fernie Alpine Resort. MacDonald said that while El Nino can be directly blamed for warmer than normal conditions, there is no direct correlation between El Nino and precipitation.
“There has been some El Ninos that are drier than normal and there has been some El Ninos that have been wetter than normal, so you can’t really say with any confidence that it’s going to be a super rainy spring or it’s going to be a super dry spring,” he said. “People are usually asking, ‘Is winter over and is spring here to stay?’ I would say I wouldn’t necessarily put away the snow shovels and the snow tires just yet. I think overall in the big picture, it’s definitely going to be mild, be we will see a few blips of cold shots of air as we get into March.”
One positive aspect of the winter has been the amount of precipitation and how much snow is sticking around. This will help combat the summer’s temperatures and the possibility of a drought, like there was in the summer of 2015.
“I know a lot of people are on edge given last year’s drought, there is actually good news there. The River Forecast Centre issued their February 1 snow survey and snow packs across the province are near or above normal,” said MacDonald, adding snow packs in the Elk Valley are 99 per cent of their average.
“Snow packs were able to build in November and December and once you have two, three meters of snow on the ground, it’s not just going to disappear with a few rainfalls. It stays for a while.”
MacDonald said it was too early to predict if the healthy snow packs would increase the chance of flooding in the spring, as it depends on a combination of factors.
“With 100 per cent of normal snow pack, all that means is that we are bang on normal. If it was 150 per cent normal, well then I think there would be a higher propensity for flooding this spring.”