Environment Canada's official weather map shows yellow and red, indicating warmer than average temperatures across Canada.

Warmer winter on the cards

Weather forecasts call for warmer than average season due to strong El-Nino

After consecutive years of extremely cold winters, the latest Environment Canada forecasts are showing a super-strength El-Nino will bring a warmer than average winter for Canada.

“A warmer winter means that the average winter temperatures for December, January and February will be above a certain threshold, which we call a climate normal,” said Marko Markovic, a physical scientist at Environment Canada.

Forecasters analyze the average temperatures over a predefined time period in the recent past to predict the upcoming weather he said. By combining this with the strength of El-Nino, a band of warm ocean water that sweeps into the Pacific, forecasters have predicted  average winter temperature will be higher than normal this year.

“This year’s El Nino is currently similar in strength to the 1997 and 1998 event which was the largest ever observed to date,” Markovic said. “Nearly all forecasting centers around the world predict this El Nino event, meaning winter of 2015 and 2016, will be among the highest over the last 50 years.”

According to Environment Canada’s previews, such a strong El-Nino also means a possibly shorter winter.

“A shorter winter season connected to an El Nino event would have a number of characteristics isolating it from a regular winter season,” Markovic said. “Some of these features are a narrower period between the freezing temperatures from December to March, reduced snowpack, and frequent occasions of warm spell events.”

Some Toronto residents are already feeling the effects of such warm spells. Megan Purcell is an exchange student from England, studying at the University of Toronto this winter, and she is enjoying the weather.

“It’s been 100 per cent warmer than I expected it to be,” said Purcell. “I like the fact that it’s chilly, but it hasn’t got that sort of harsh icy wind that everyone’s been telling me about.”

Despite such unexpected warmth, Environment Canada has said that we should still expect to have month-to-month and week-to-week variation within the winter.

“For example, cold spells may occur even when the average winter temperatures are higher than normal,” Markovic said.

The strongest influence of El Nino is forecasted to occur in the north of Canada, and near the coasts, making Toronto one of the less influenced regions. The residents of southern Ontario will still see a warmer than average winter though.

“This sentiment of a warmer winter will probably be enhanced bearing in mind last winter’s cold, with its below average temperatures that occurred over the entire southeastern Canada,” Markovic said.

In the spirit of this unexpectedly warmer Canadian winter, Purcell said she’s even looking forward to the coming weeks.

“It’s such lovely weather that if I’m well-equipped I’ll be embracing this winter with open arms,” she said.