Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Warming up to Canada's WEATHER GURU

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THERE'S no curbing David Phillips' enthusiasm for weather.

Environment Canada's senior climatologist -- and Canada's unofficial weather guru -- has been studying, speaking and writing about the country's national obsession for more than four decades.

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He is the originator and author of the Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar, the most popular calendar in the nation. It's now in its 25th year.

Phillips was in Winnipeg on Friday to speak to the Manitoba Disaster Management Conference. He easily held the audience's attention for more than an hour with a fact-filled presentation that combined humour and a serious message about the need to plan to deal with climate change and the accompanying rise in extreme weather events.

After his presentation, the Free Press took the opportunity to ask Phillips for a forecast on the winter ahead. The following is a condensed and edited version of our chat:

What's on tap for this winter?

I would bet -- maybe not my government pension but certainly a few loonies -- that this winter will be tougher than last winter. Clearly it has already started earlier. It's going to stay later and it's going to be tougher in between. Last year, you only had 25 days where your temperatures were below minus 20 . Normally you'd see about 60 of those suckers. You didn't have one temperature below -28.9. I've never seen a year where you didn't have a -30 in Winnipeg. It was almost like winter was cancelled last year...

We've looked at our (forecast) models, and they seem to be a little all over the place. We normally wait until the first of December before we make our call (on what the winter will be like). But our preliminary forecast is showing a normal kind of winter -- normal snowfall, normal temperatures -- based on a 30-year record. So certainly it will be a tougher winter than last year, but not the winter from hell.

There's three possibilities in our seasonal forecast. We say it's going to be warmer, colder or something in between. So in many ways it's kind of like the Goldilocks of winters, not too hot, not too cold, something in between. And I always think that's good news. If I was manufacturing weather, I'd always give you normal weather. It's good for retailers, it's good for recreationists. It's good for farmers. It's good for flood managers.

So after an exceptionally mild winter last year, it stands to reason that it will be colder this year.

We know that the winters aren't what they used to be. Even a normal winter will seem so brutal compared to what you were used to last year. Most people just remember and feel one season. When you get a season that is normal, they think, "That is one of the worst winters I've ever had to put up with." No! It's just that it was a lot tougher than the previous one.

We're getting snow this weekend. It looks like it's falling late enough in the season to last.

The snow you see today may be there at Easter. We've already had some snow in October, a little in early November that came and went. And this last one in southeastern Manitoba -- it snuffed out a wildfire. How bizarre was that?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 A8

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