We are deeper into the winter than normal for my weather predictions for the season, yet everyone seemed to want to have a say this year. Accuweather, a private weather service, offered the first predictions in mid-October of a “warmer and drier” winter in eastern Canada due to the forecasted warmer than normal waters in the North Atlantic. The Weather Network, another private weather service, predicts a snowy, stormy winter season in the Atlantic provinces, while senior climatologist at Environment Canada David Phillips predicts a “milder than normal” winter in eastern Canada. Last winter was the seventh warmest in 70 years, so because climate is variable – it goes up-and-down year-to-year – is it time for a colder one?
Normally, a PEI winter (the months of December, January and February) averages -6 degrees Celsius and receives about 303 millimetres of precipitation, that’s rain or snow. Environment Canada uses climate models to forecast seasonal weather. Climate models are mathematical equations strung together that describe the chemistry and physics of the Earth’s climate system. 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) for PEI to be “above normal” with precipitation (snow and rain) “normal” for 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, they do not forecast as well.
We all know people who swear by almanacs when forecasting the seasonal weather, so I took a look at four of them. The 2018 Canadian Farmers Almanac forecasts the winter as “cold and snowy”; the 2018 Harrowsmith’s Canadian Almanac says the winter will be “drier and milder than normal”; and the 2018 Almanac for Farmers and City Folk calls for temperatures “above normal” and precipitation “below normal”. The 2018 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 this year to be “milder” 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 this winter – to continue the trend and be “warmer and drier”.
Over the past five years, no one group has been “bang on” in predicting the winter climate – the best has been following the long-term climate trends of warmer and drier but this only worked three out of the five years, and really missed our savage winter of 2015. This inability to forecast seasons accurately is because the year-to-year climate is variable – 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, we flipped coins to see what Lady Fortune’s forecast for the winter will be – the result being “colder and drier”. So there are many forecasts made but only one will be correct. Predictions are leaning towards a warmer and drier winter for 2018. We’ll have to wait a few months to see who is right, which truly emphasizes our inability to seasonally forecast well.
|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 2018 is now available for purchase at Murphy’s pharmacies and the Bookmart book store. 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 extreme rainfall events; the weather history of Greenwich, PEI; historical PEI weather stories about PEI automobile drivers switching to the right side of the road (1924), the first commercial radio station on PEI (1925), and the Second World War (1939); and much, much more!
Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at firstname.lastname@example.org or (902) 620-5220