Warm winter 'beyond shocking'


Season was balmiest on record


From the balmy Arctic, to the open water of the St. Lawrence and snowless western fields, this winter has been the warmest and driest in Canadian record books.

Environment Canada scientists report that winter 2009/10 was 4 C above normal, making it the warmest since nationwide records were first kept in 1948. It was also the driest winter on the 63-year record, with precipitation 22 per cent below normal nationally, and down 60 per cent in parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

"It's beyond shocking," David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, said Tuesday. Records have been shattered from "coast to coast to coast."

"It is truly a remarkable situation," says Phillips, noting that he's seen nothing like it in his 40 years of weather watching. He also warns that "the winter than wasn't" may have set the stage for potentially "horrific" water shortages, insect infestations and wildfires this summer.

As much of Asia, Europe and the U.S. shivered through and shovelled out of freak winter storms, Phillips says Canada was left on the sidelines.

"It's like winter was cancelled in this country," he says.

Temperature across Canada, except for a small area over the southern Prairies, were above normal, with some parts of Nunavut and northern Quebec more than six degrees above normal, he and his colleagues report. It's been "downright balmy" in much of the north, the St. Lawrence River is all but ice free, while Vancouver had to haul in snow for the Winter Olympics.

Phillips says the extraordinary winter appears to be tied to several factors, chief among them El Nino, a shift in the winds and ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean, and the shrinking Arctic ice, which has thinned and retreated markedly in recent years.

The department's report on this winter says the long-term record shows Canada's climate has changed, most markedly in the winter, which has warmed 2.5 C over the last 63 years.

"The winter season shows the greatest warming of any season, but all seasons have shown a warming trend since 1948," says the summary.

The warm, dry winter could spell big trouble this summer. "One of the greatest things about our winter is it kills bugs and diseases and resets the clock for us," says Phillips. Or, it used to. He says many pests are sure to be thriving after this year's warm winter.

"Everything weird, wild and wacky that happens this summer people will trace back to the year without winter," says Phillips, noting that soil moisture in the western Prairies is very low.

View the report on the 2009/2010

weather at: http://www.msc-smc.ec.gc.ca/ccrm/bulletin/national-- e. cfm


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