The return of cold weather this week brings the end of a long, warm summer and autumn that seemed as if they would not end. Global temperatures are soaring toward a record high this year, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations’ weather agency, of about 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (before 1850). The WMO has said that 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred since 2000 with the only exception being 1998. Much of the blame for many of these warm years has gone to the El Niño climate cycle of warmer Pacific Ocean waters that results in a global impact on weather patterns. Scientists are seeing a shift to a moderate La-Niña climate cycle this winter which normally allows cold air masses to build and remain over eastern North America. What complicates things is that our Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO) climate cycle is in a continued warm phase, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) climate cycle is in a cold phase and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is in the early stages of its warm cycle. These oscillations are linked ocean-atmosphere patterns that influence the weather over periods of weeks to years. I have heard gossip around town about a horribly severe winter ahead, so I thought I’d examine what some of the experts are saying.
Normally, a PEI winter (the months of December, January and February) averages -6 degrees Celsius and receives about 303 millimetres of precipitation. Environment Canada uses climate models to forecast seasonal weather. Climate models are mathematical equations strung together that describe the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere. These equations are calculated using the largest computers in the country, known as supercomputers. Environment Canada forecasts temperatures for the winter of 2017 (December, January, February) all across Canada to be “above normal” with precipitation (snow and rain) “normal” for the west of the Island and “below normal” for the east of the Island. I must mention, however, that Environment Canada’s seasonal forecast models are accurate for Prince Edward Island only 40-50% of the time (which is not significantly better than chance, meaning flip a coin and you’ll have the same odds of getting the forecast correct). Environment Canada’s seasonal forecasts are accurate in Northern Quebec, the southern Yukon and Baffin Island, but here on PEI, not so well.
We all know people who swear by almanacs when forecasting the seasonal weather, so I took a look at four of them. The 2017 Canadian Farmers Almanac forecasts the winter of 2017 as “ice cold and snowy”; the 2017 Harrowsmith’s Canadian Almanac says the winter of 2017 will be “seasonable with high snow amounts and storminess” with a potential for record-breaking snow; and the 2017 Almanac for Farmers and City Folk calls for temperatures “above normal” and precipitation “below normal”. The 2017 Old Farmer’s Almanac, the one we are most familiar with as it has been forecasting seasonal weather since its first issue in 1792 (the time of George Washington’s presidency), uses a “secret formula” kept tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire. The Old Farmer’s Almanac makes claims of 80% accuracy of their results, but studies of their forecasts show no better over the long-term than about 50%. The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasts the PEI winter climate of 2017 to be “colder than normal” and “wetter than normal”.
My own research at the University of Prince Edward Island that examined over 140 years of weather observations in Charlottetown has shown that the climate has definitely gotten warmer and drier, especially over the past 10-15 years or so. And that’s where I put my forecast for the winter of 2017 – to continue the trend and be “warmer and drier”.
Climate is variable, though – it goes up and down. Climate is nature’s merry-go-round so it is often difficult to predict the coming season even with supercomputers, secret formulas or historical trends. To emphasize this point, Dr. Laurie Brinklow from UPEI Island Studies flipped coins to see what Lady Fortune’s forecast for the winter of 2017 will be – the result being “colder and drier”. So there are many forecasts made but only one will be correct. Predictions are split straight down the middle as to whether the winter of 2017 will be warmer or colder, but the predictions sway towards more of a drier (less snow) winter. It is a real toss up for the predictions this year which truly emphasizes our inability to seasonally forecast well. We’ll have to wait a few months to see who is right.
|Predictions of PEI Winter 2017|
Warmer (+) Colder(-)
Wetter (+) Drier (-)
|Canadian Farmer’s Almanac||–||+|
|Almanac for Farmers and City Folk||+||–|
|Old Farmer’s Almanac||–||+|
|Chance (Flip a Coin)||–||–|
. The PEI Weather Trivia Calendar 2017 is now available for purchase at pharmacies and book stores across the Island. This year’s calendar offers 365 all new PEI weather stories for every day of the year; twelve beautiful full-colour PEI weather photographs; information about lightning strikes on Prince Edward Island including their frequency, location and seasonality; stories of storm surges; historical PEI weather stories from the start of the First World War (1914), PEI’s first Ice Breaking Ferry (1916), and when the women of PEI won the right to vote and hold public office (1922); and much, much more!
Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at firstname.lastname@example.org or (902) 620-5220