It’s Official! 2014-15 Snowiest Winter on Record

By Dr. Adam Fenech

A late April snowstorm this week has helped the winter of 2014-15 break the record for the most snowfall recorded in one year on Prince Edward Island – more than the previous record of 539 centimetres (cm) set in 1971-72. And our snow season is not over yet! In any “normal” winter season from October to May – “normal” being the average of 30 years from 1981-2010 – Prince Edward Island receives about 290 cm of snow (see table below). This winter started with lots of snow in November (three times more than normal), hardly any in December, and then about the normal amount in January. February was brutal with four times the normal amount of snowfall, and March not much better with three times the normal amount. April has been relatively snow free but this week’s storm clinched it. Something to tell the grandkids – I lived through the winter of 2014-15, the snowiest on record.

PEI Snowfall in centimetres
October November December January February March April May TOTAL
2014-15

Snowfall

0 58 13 90 223 144 23+ ? 551+
Normal

Snowfall

2 19 66 73 58 44 24 4 290

Prince Edward Island also set a record this year for the 159 cm of snow measured on the ground at Charlottetown Airport in March, breaking the record from 1956 of 122 cm. This winter’s snowfall came in large storms as Prince Edward Island did not have more days than normal with snow (see table below). In fact, we have had 4 days fewer than normal. There were large storms this winter in January (27th), February (2nd, 3rd, 15th) and March (15th). A storm over February 15-16 brought 86.8 cm of snowfall with winds gusting to 128 km/h making it a more severe storm than the infamous February 19, 2004 snowstorm known as White Juan.

Number of Days with Snow
2014-15 Normal Difference
Greater than 0.2 cm 69 73  -4
Greater than 5 cm 26 18  +8
Greater than 10 cm 21 8 +13
Greater than 25 cm 5 1 +4

So why are we having record breaking snowfalls, snow depth and storms during a time of supposed global warming? Is this winter proof that the world is actually cooling down instead of warming?

To put it simply, no. In global terms, 2014 was the hottest year of record, with the 10 warmest years having now occurred since 1998. So while the east coast of Canada is going through one of its most severe winters, it is warmer than usual around most of the globe.

One big factor in the severity of our winter snowstorms has been the unusually warm temperatures off the Atlantic coast. Warmer temperatures mean that the air can hold more water vapour, and as a result, there has been more moisture in the atmosphere than usual this winter. And there is good ol’ natural climate variability which means that we will still have record cold temperatures, just fewer of them. What’s different now is that climate change is shifting the odds towards record warmer seasons and away from record cold seasons. Record cold seasons aren’t impossible; they are just harder to get.

Prince Edward Island’s snowy winter of 2014-15 is not the new normal. I expect the Prince Edward Island winter of 2015-16 to be warmer with much less snow than we have experienced the past two years. The climate’s natural year-to-year variability usually dictates this leveling out of weather exteremes. Global warming just moves that variability towards trends of warmer and drier conditions.  So keep watching the weather.

. Speaking of watching, the UPEI Climate Lab has worked with many natural history experts from across the province to produce a Climate Diary that helps identify and record observations of naturally-occurring plant and animal life cycle events over time on Prince Edward Island. As the years roll on, the Climate Diary will provide a written record of changes in the environment as they occur year-to-year over the next 25 years. These records will help scientists understand changes in the climate system and how these events are influenced by seasonal and inter-annual variations in climate. And eventually, these records will be a written testament to the effects of global climate change as temperatures warm through the decades, and precipitation patterns change. For more details, email climate@upei.ca or call us at 620-5221.

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day Deserves Its Stormy Reputation

By Dr. Adam Fenech

On March 17th, Islanders will be celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day named after the patron saint of Ireland who brought Christianity to Ireland in the 4th century. It is an official public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador, but unofficial on Prince Edward Island. In addition to enjoying the revelry and celebration of Irish culture and heritage, often times Islanders don’t have to work that day in mid-March. Not because it’s a holiday, but because of a late winter storm!

Islanders have come to expect a storm on St. Patrick’s Day and view it as one of the rituals of the coming of spring. Sometimes, Nature’s timing is off and the winter storm comes the day before the Irish Celebration or the day afterwards. But that doesn’t stop Islanders from expecting a storm every St. Patrick’s Day. Don Jardine, the resident weather historian at UPEI’s Climate Lab, has lots of evidence to back up this weather folklore.

On St. Patrick’s Day in the year 2000, winds of up to 100 kilometres-an-hour whipped over 20 centimetres of snow into whiteouts that made driving treacherous in Queens County, leading police to warn motorists to stay off the roads.

In 1987, three days of stormy weather around St. Patrick’s Day left 31 centimetres of snow in Tignish, closing roads across West Prince. It took three days to open roads as the drifting was so severe that operators could not see where they were going and the roads were filling in behind them.

In 1961, a series of storms two weeks prior to St. Patrick’s Day isolated many rural communities, making mail deliveries erratic, school attendance irregular and travelling difficult. Most main roads were passable, but many sideroads remained blocked for days at a time. Buses leaving Miminegash got stuck en-route to Alberton and eventually had to turn back. At Glengarry, a plow took 10 hours to open 6 kilometres of road only to have it filled in the next day.

St. Patrick’s Day in 1895 was a day without an ice boat crossing from Cape Traverse to New Brunswick, due to blowing and drifting snow from the northwest. No mail, freight or even passengers made it across the Northumberland Straight that day.

The diary of Henry Cundall, a New London philanthropist, tells us that the celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day in 1856 and 1857 were recognized for their snow and rainstorms and his need to purchase an umbrella.

All this is anecdotal evidence of large winter storms on March 17th, but what do P.E.I.’s climate records say? The answer is that a snowstorm occurs around St. Patrick’s Day 50% of the time or, on average, every other year. So Islanders are right! Look out for the storms on St. Patrick’s Day. And if there is a storm, hopefully it means we’ll not be working so that we can enjoy our celebration to its fullest. Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

Note: The Climate Lab will be hosting a training session for the public on the evening of March 30 on how to identify P.E.I.’s plants and birds for recording in the Climate Diary. For more details, email climate@upei.ca or call us at 620-5221. P.E.I.’s Climate Diary is a written record of changes in the environment as they occur year-to-year over the next 25 years. These records will help scientists understand changes in the climate system and how these events are influenced by seasonal and inter-annual variations in climate. And eventually, these records will be a written testament to the effects of global climate change as temperatures warm through the decades, and precipitation patterns change.

Why So Much Snow?

 

Hairy Woodpecker. Photo by Don jardine.

Hairy Woodpecker. Photo by Don Jardine.

By Dr. Adam Fenech

Wow! Another winter storm hit PEI this February long weekend bringing back memories of White Juan. White Juan refers to the brutal blizzard of February 19, 2004 nicknamed after Hurricane Juan, a storm that hit PEI on September 29, 2003 with wind gusts up to 140 km/h causing flooding, uprooting of trees and infrastructure damage in the Charlottetown Harbour. White Juan brought 120 km/h winds and 76.6 cm of snow to Charlottetown over a 48-hour period. This weekend’s storm was no Juan-a-bee, however, but the real deal. Environment Canada is reporting that 86.8 centimetres (cm) of snowfall was measured at Charlottetown airport over Sunday and Monday with winds gusting to 128 km/h on Monday making it a more severe storm than White Juan – perhaps we can name the storm White Juan’s Big Brother. Good preparations and planning helped PEI emerge relatively well this past weekend, and community leaders should be commended for their work in getting the message out to take this storm seriously. This storm, together with the heavy storms of two weeks ago (110 cm of snow from February 1-7) has me asking “So why so much snow these past few weeks?”

Yes, we can all blame the polar vortex, but it is a symptom not the cause. The northern polar vortex is a large region of air that circles the North Pole (counter-clockwise) in the high atmosphere dripping high colder air to the surface of the Earth. The northern polar vortex is kept in place by the northern jet stream, a west-to-east warmer wind that flows around the Earth between the upper and lower atmospheres driven by the differences between the cold north and the warmer south. Sometimes the northern jet stream meanders like a stream causing a piece of the polar vortex to break off and plunge to the surface over Canada bringing cold air and snow.

These past few weeks, a combination of high pressure zones on the west and east coasts of North America is driving the cold, wintery weather on PEI. A strong high pressure system off the west coast of Canada (known as the Eastern Pacific Oscillation or EPO) has moved high into Alaska (where temperatures are +7°C today) pushing the northern jet stream high on the west coast allowing the polar vortex to move further south into central Canada (where temperatures were -16°C yesterday). Many times, this southern movement of the polar vortex is blocked from moving into the Atlantic provinces by a strong high pressure system off of the east coast of Canada (known as the North Atlantic Oscillation or NAO). These past few weeks, however, the NAO is not blocking the polar vortex but helping steer the storm activity up the east coast.

The bad news is that both the NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Climate Forecast System and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts predict a continuing pattern of wintery weather through to the beginning of March with two more weeks of below normal temperatures, and a risk of significant snowfall events. Mind you, the models are showing not such amplified effects, meaning not as severe cold or as much snow, but certainly no reprieve from winter as of yet.

All of this snow cover moving into March raises concerns about flooding events. There is no exact correlation between snow cover and flooding – some of the worst floods come from storms when there is no snow cover, and sometimes a large snowpack melts slowly over time creating no floods. But the risk is there, and should be watched into March.

Speaking of watching, the UPEI Climate Lab has worked with many natural history experts from across the province to produce a Climate Diary that helps identify and record observations of naturally-occurring plant and animal life cycle events over time on Prince Edward Island. As the years roll on, the Climate Diary will provide a written record of changes in the environment as they occur year-to-year over the next 25 years. These records will help scientists understand changes in the climate system and how these events are influenced by seasonal and inter-annual variations in climate. And eventually, these records will be a written testament to the effects of global climate change as temperatures warm through the decades, and precipitation patterns change. The Climate Lab will be hosting two training sessions for the public on how to identify P.E.I.’s plants and birds that are mentioned in the Climate Diary – the first is the morning of March 3 and the second is the evening of March 30. For more details, email climate@upei.ca or call us at 620-5221.

PEI Climate Diary

PEI Climate Diary

Living Shorelines Training – Wednesday February 18 – Charlottetown, PEI

Summer Home at Pt Deroche May 10 2011 (1 of 1)“Living shorelines are the result of applying erosion control measures that include a suite of techniques which can be used to minimize coastal erosion and maintain coastal process. Techniques may include the use of fiber coir logs, sills, groins, breakwaters or other natural components used in combination with sand, other natural materials and/or marsh plantings. These techniques are used to protect, restore, enhance or create natural shoreline habitat.” Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Join Living Shorelines experts, Kevin M. Smith, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Rosmarie Lohnes, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia who will lead discussion of topics including:

I.          Shoreline Erosion (Causes and Outcomes; Natural Processes)

II.          Shoreline Erosion Control Practices – Overview (Traditional Practices)

III.          Origins of Living Shorelines (History, Definitions, How the Practice Developed)

IV.          Philosophy of Living Shoreline Practices (Dynamism, Physical Processes, Shoreline Habitat)

V.          Living Shoreline Practices (Sand Fill, Sills, Breakwaters, Innovative Approaches)

VI.          Benefits (Fish and Macroinvertebrates, Erosion Protection)

VII.          Costs

VIII.          Monitoring

To Register: Send your name, organization, mailing address, telephone and email to climate@upei.caThe cost of the training is $10 which includes lunch and coffee breaks.

UPEI Climate Lab Director Provides One of Keynote Addresses to Vibrant Gujarat Conference in India

photoDr. Adam Fenech, Director of UPEI’s Climate Research Lab, was in Ahmedabad, India in January 2015 to address the Vibrant Gujarat conference, a biennial event that attracts over 15,000 delegates. Introducing CLIVE (the UPEI Climate Lab’s CoastaL Impacts Visualization Environment tool) at the conference’s Innovation: The Torchbearer of 21st Century symposium, Dr. Fenech profiled the world-class research being conducted at UPEI. Dr. Fenech was honoured to meet the Chief Minister (equivalent to Canada’s Premiers) of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, to discuss the common challenges of coastal erosion and climate change. Dr. Fenech also spoke about the changing climate of India at the World Innovation Symposium in Gandhinagar, India.

Prince Edward Island’s Top 3 Weather Stories of 2014

By Dr. Adam Fenech, Director, Climate Lab, University of Prince Edward Island

Another year has gone by and it’s time to talk about Prince Edward Island’s top three weather stories of 2014. This past year continues to remind us of the important part weather plays in our everyday lives. Every year brings stories of weather no matter where you are, and Prince Edward Island is no different. Here are my top three weather stories for 2014, and how they affected Prince Edward Island.

Number 3 – Hurricane Arthur in July

Post-tropical storm Arthur was the big weather story of the summer of 2014 with strong winds sinking three boats in the Charlottetown harbour, and cutting power to roughly 5,000 Maritime Electric customers on July 5. Arthur brought winds with gusts of almost 100 kilometers per hour, but not much rain (12 millimeters) as the Island was spared the flooding damage that occurred in other Atlantic Provinces. The wind storm caused the cancelling of all of the Saturday night performances of the Cavendish Beach Music Festival when travel woes grounded country-music stars Blake Shelton and Darius Rucker. And the PEI 2014 Celebration Zone at Confederation Landing in Charlottetown was closed the day following the storm while staff assessed the site for damage. Trees were blown down across Charlottetown changing the streetscape, and Belvedere golf course received damage to its clubhouse as well as downed trees and branches. Arthur also caused some crop damage to the Island’s ripe strawberries by the wind pushing the stems into the fruit. And while one of P.E.I.’s piping plover nests was lost in the storm due to flooding, these endangered species fared better than feared with all of the chicks surviving in the other nests.

Number 2 – Damaging Rainstorm in December

A strong Nor-easter pounded the Island on December 10 with high winds and rain. The University of Prince Edward Island climate station in Foxley River recorded over 156 mm of rain on this day, close to the most rain ever recorded on P.E.I. in 24 hours. This rainstorm caused millions of dollars in damage to roads and bridges across the province. A car fell into the water after flooding caused a bridge to collapse in Milburn with the driver escaping with only minor scrapes. A vehicle got stuck in a sink hole that had developed on Route 175 in Tyne Valley, but the two occupants were not injured. A family of three including a young baby were rescued by Department of Transportation workers from a home in St. Lawrence in western P.E.I. because of flooding “coming up over our doorstep, coming up the stairs,” as they left. The Confederation Bridge was closed to motorcycles and high-sided vehicles such as trucks, tractor trailers, recreational vehicles and buses. Northumberland Ferries cancelled crossings to and from the Island for the day. A Bonshaw family took advantage of the flooding in their front yard by breaking out the kayaks and paddling across the lawn.

Number 1 – Most Severe Winter in 42 years

Those two storms were quite formidable, but not enough to challenge for the number one spot for the P.E.I. weather story of the year – the winner being our particularly cold and stormy winter of 2014. Over the past thirty years, there has been a definite downward trend in the amount of snow that PEI has received, but not this past winter. We have to go back 42 years to find a year with more snow. If we consider the snowfall months to be November, December, January, February and March, then this past year’s snowfall was about 417 centimetres (cm) of the white stuff, the most since 1972 when 425 cm fell. On average, the snowfall this past winter season was almost 60% more than normal or what is expected. This past year’s snowfall was particularly jarring as the two previous winters had been very dry indeed. The winter of 1972 was a much different winter than this past year’s one. By the end of March, 1972 had 80 days of snowfall, while the winter of 2014 had only 47 days with snowfall. By the end of March, the winter of 1972 had many days of small snowstorms with none above 25 cm, while the winter of 2014 had four major snowstorms on December 22 (27 cm), January 22 (37.4 cm), February 19 (27.8 cm) and March 26 (48.5 cm). The winter of 1972 went on to have 531 cm of snow once the months of April and May were added to the total, while the winter of 2014 ended with a grand total of 456 cm. And yes, the winter of 2014 was colder than normal by almost 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Islanders love their weather. Islanders are defined by the weather – we live by it. We are at the whims of Nature and the weather it brings. It keeps us at home, keeps us from work, keeps our kids from school yet it brings communities together. While tragic at times, our weather brings out our great spirit of humanity, sense of community and commitment to always look out for each other. From North Cape to East Point, West Point to Murray Head – and all points in-between – weather shapes who we are. Happy Christmas to all.