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|
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|
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 620-5221.