Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winter plays a last cruel joke

This time last year was patio weather

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As you shovel your way through this long, hard winter, take comfort in knowing tomorrow is the start of spring.

And try not to think about last winter. A year ago today, it was 23.6 C in Winnipeg. On March 18 last year, it was 20.8 C, and golf courses in the city were open. Winter activities such as cross-country skiing and outdoor skating were distant memories. Many Winnipeggers got an unexpected jump on their gardening. It felt like spring.

"Last winter was an odd winter," said Environment Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell.

Fast-forward a year and we're digging out from a big dump of snow, bundled up against a -30 wind chill.

We've got schools closed in divisions across the province because of heavy, blowing snow. Wicked winds prompted the closure of roads and cemeteries.

"We're actually getting a Manitoba winter this year," said Hasell, who remembers sitting on a Winnipeg patio this time last year.

"Looking at this year, we've been shovelling a lot." Indeed. Close to 159 centimetres of snow have fallen in Winnipeg this winter compared with 80 cm last winter.

Two winters ago, Winnipeg got 136 cm of snow from October to March, according to historical Environment Canada data from the Charleswood 2 station that measures snowfall.

"Our precipitation amounts are not unusual" this winter, she said. March usually gets more snow than February, she said Monday. That afternoon, Brookside, St. Vital and Transcona cemeteries were closed until further notice because of blowing snow and poor driving conditions. Major routes such as Highway 75 south of Morris, to the U.S. border and Fermor Avenue east of the city were closed because of poor visibility and roads.

The city held its standard heavy-snowfall news conference Monday, promising to get the main traffic routes clear in time for rush hour today. Back lanes, side streets and sidewalks are also a snow-removal priority, city spokesman Ken Allen said.

The blowing snow made the cleanup more difficult, he said, with a good chance cleared routes could get blown in. The city wouldn't say if it had blown its annual snow-clearing budget yet.

The Sunday to Monday dump of more than 20 cm of snow will cost Winnipeg about $1 million to clean up, said Allen. In January, it spent $11 million. No estimates were available for snow removal in February or the beginning of March, he said.

Winnipeg has budgeted about $26 million for snow-clearing this year.

Last year, Winnipeg recorded a $15.9-million surplus -- higher than the estimated $12.5 million, which was put toward Winnipeg's 2013 operating budget. The city issued a statement earlier saying the $3.4-million surplus would go toward any budget challenges this year, such as higher-than-normal snowfall.

This is normal, though, said Hasell, pointing out last March was eight degrees warmer than normal.

For school kids, the return of a normal Manitoba winter meant the return of snow days. No one contacted at the Hanover School Division in snowy Steinbach, which cancelled classes Monday, could recall a snow event last winter that kept kids home. It was one of several school divisions in Manitoba that cancelled classes on Monday, and not for the first time this winter.

It was not a good snow day for playing or being outside, though. The freezing cold, wicked wind and poor visibility can be a deadly combination, especially on Manitoba highways, said Hasell.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2013 A3


Updated on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 2:47 PM CDT: Corrects snowfall figure for this year.

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