P.E.I.’s Top 3 Weather Stories of 2015

By Dr. Adam Fenech

Another year has gone by and it’s time to talk about Prince Edward Island’s top three weather stories of 2015. 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. And while I am tempted to speak about the rare record-breaking warm weather at the end of May in Summerside of 23.7 degrees Celsius (°C), and in mid-August of record-breaking warm temperatures above 30°C across the Island, it is more appropriate to focus on the cold winter weather of 2015. Here are my top three weather stories for 2015, and how they affected Prince Edward Island.

Number 3 – Cold Winter Tempratures of 2015

The winter temperatures of 2015 were well below the normal – the “normal” being the average of 30 years from 1981-2010. After a balmy December in 2014 of 2.5°C above normal, Prince Edward Island experienced five straight months of daily average temperatures below normal to start the year of 2015 –January was 1°C colder; February was 5.3°C colder; March was 2.9°C colder and April was 3°C colder. Prince Edward Island also suffered through 49 straight days of daily average temperatures below the freezing mark from January 20 to March 10, 2015 with no thaw relief whatsoever.

Number 2 – Most Snow on the Ground Recorded on Prince Edward Island in 2015

Prince Edward Island also set a record in 2015 for the 159 cm of snow “measured on the ground” at Charlottetown Airport in March, breaking the record from 1956 of 122 cm. This means that the snow kept accumulating between snowfalls with colder than normal temperatures, rather than melting in between snowfalls. The winter of 2015’s snowfall came in large storms as Prince Edward Island did not have more days than normal with snow. In fact, there were 4 days fewer than normal. There were large winter storms in the 2015 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 1 – Most Winter Snow Ever Recorded on Prince Edward Island in 2015

A winter for the record books – one to tell the grandchildren about. A late April snowstorm helped the winter of 2015 break the record for the most snowfall recorded in one year on Prince Edward Island – a new record of 551 centimetres (cm) or 12 cm more than the previous record set in 1972. In any “normal” winter season from October to May, Prince Edward Island receives about 290 cm of snow. 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 was relatively snow free but one final storm on April 28 clinched the record.

And all of that snow and the accompanying cold weather had an enormous impact on Islander life.

  • Island schools were closed 13 days in the 2015 winter which was one more than the number of closures the year before but it is worth noting that the timing of the March break in 2015 almost certainly prevented another five unscheduled school closures, and the timing of Islander Day prevented another which would have totaled 19 days of school closure for 2015.
  • The Confederation Bridge was closed the winter of 2015 more than double the average in the same previous periods since it opened in 1997. Only a fraction of the closures were triggered by conditions on the bridge itself, the rest was caused by road conditions on the New Brunswick and PEI sides.
  • All of the snow led to many roof collapses. Mount Albion farmer Joel VanGurp and his family were in their pig barn in late March doing chores when a portion of the structure’s roof collapsed. Firefighters arrived and used a chainsaw to cut through the exterior walls to get into the downed structure to rescue the 300 sows with piglets inside. P.E.I. farmer Robbie Sanderson faced a $50,000 bill to repair his barn after a section of roof collapsed under the weight of the snow at the end of March 2015. And Rowing PEI lost four of its nine sculls when the roof of a barn where the equipment was being stored collapsed at a loss of about $50,000.

The lingering effects of the severe and long winter of 2015 were felt on the Island for months.

  • PEI lobster, oyster and scallop fisheries were delayed by over one week in their spring openings because many harbours were still iced in come early May. Some fishermen at Red Head Harbour used chainsaws to try to cut the ice in the harbour into chunks to speed the breakup. Eight PEI harbours asked the Canadian Coast Guard for assistance from a hovercraft that breaks up ice, but its arrival was delayed due to high winds. There was a lot of anxiety and disappointment among fishermen.
  • Potato planting season in P.E.I. was pushed back by about two weeks due to the record-setting snowfall. In mid-May, many fields were still too wet with lingering snow, preventing farmers from planting. The late start meant smaller and fewer potatoes at the end of the season due to a bit of a yield depression on some crops, especially some potato varieties that need a longer growing season to bulk up.
  • Golfers needed to be patient as the majority of PEI golf courses delayed their season opening by as much as two weeks because the ground was still holding onto some of the snow. The good news was that the record snow did a good job protecting fairways and greens from the elements, so the courses, once opened, were in ideal shape.
  • Just like the summer weather, insects emerged later this year on Prince Edward Island. Normally the first summer pests begin to show up in June, but they emerged in mid-July in high numbers, roughly three weeks behind from last year due to the cool spring. And Entomologist Christine Noronha says the severe winter actually ensured the survival of many insects as the large snow cover actually insulated the soil and the areas where insects hibernate leading to a higher survival rate. The snow may also be the reason mosquitoes seem to be out in droves this year with the snow cover providing them with pools of water to breed in.
  • The harsh winter of “too many cold days and way too much snow” was also blamed for the estimated 85 per cent reduction in PEI maple syrup production; for a poor crop of apples prompting a P.E.I. apple orchard owner not to open his U-pick operation Wintermoor Apple Orchard in York; and for an 18 per cent reduction of honeybee hives on PEI.

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.