There is one sure sign of spring in this city -- everyone whines incessantly about how they've just survived the worst winter in the history of the (bad word) universe.
I hate to burst your frozen bubble, but, as bad as it was, this was not our worst winter ever. It just felt like it.
So, with the arrival Thursday of the vernal equinox, the first official day of spring, the one day on which folklore tells us it is possible to balance a raw egg perfectly on its end, I decided to ask my buddy, Dale Marciski, a senior meteorologist at Environment Canada, to set the record straight on the winter that (we think) was.
We are going to do this in the entertaining and informative Q & A format, because, journalistically speaking, that's what I want to do.
Q: OK, Dale, tell us: Was this our worst winter ever?
Q: Could you expand on that?
A: "It was one of the worst. It had everything. It's one to remember. There's been much more snow than normal and many days with extreme wind chills. It's been a significant winter, even for people who have lived all their lives here, and yet it's not record-breaking."
Q: OK, how did this winter stack up?
A: "This is our 11th-coldest winter on record."
Q: And the coldest was?
A: "That was the winter of 1874-75. The mean temperature was -23 C. This winter the average temperature was -20.3 C."
Q: So, like, it was still pretty cold?
A: "It was the coldest winter in 35 years, which is significant. It was the coldest since 1978-79, when the average was -20.8 C."
Q: Perhaps you have more frightening numbers to share?
A: "We had 29 days this winter when the temperature was below -30 C. The normal is 12 days. We had 34 days with wind chills of -40 or colder. The normal again is 12. To top it off, we had two days (Jan. 5 and March 1) when the wind chill was -50 or colder. That's very extreme."
Q: OK, so it wasn't the coldest ever, but surely we got the most (extremely bad word) snow in our history?
A: "No. We're nowhere in the Top 10 or Top 15. It's roughly the 30th-snowiest winter so far. But we're not finished. We'll bump up a few places with the snow we get Thursday night and today. We'll get more snow in March and April."
Q: So how much snow are we talking about?
A: "This winter, we've had 151 centimetres of snow so far, and there's more to come. The normal amount of snow is 114 cm in an entire winter. We've had seven winters where we've had over 200 cm of snow. The last one was 1996-97, when we had 213 cm."
Q: And the snowiest winter?
A: "That was 1955-56 when we had 253 cm. Last year, we had 176 cm. It's hard to mark this year, because it's going to continue to add up. The snow season isn't finished yet."
Q: Great news, Dale. So why does everyone in the checkout aisle at my grocery store insist this is the worst (insert bad word here) winter they can remember?
A: "Some of the cold winters were not very snowy and some of the snowy ones were not very cold, but this year we had a double whammy -- cold and snowy. We kind of got the worst of both. That may be a factor in why people, such as myself, think this was a very hard winter. The snow we did get didn't melt at all. We usually lose a bit of snow during some of the milder days. Not this year."
Q: So they're not -- how shall I put this -- crazy?
A: "No, not at all. It was difficult -- the freezing pipes, the snow-clearing issues; there were lots of days they had to close highways. It just seemed to go on and on."
Q: Speaking of which, now that spring has officially arrived, can we expect a heat wave any time soon?
A: "Ha ha ha! In a word, no! Spring is very slow to arrive. I don't mean the astronomical spring (March 20); I mean the meteorological spring. We're going to get a bit of snow tonight and Friday's going to be windy so there'll be blowing snow and temperatures falling to -16 C in the afternoon."
Q: Oh, goodie?
A: "We don't see it warming up any time soon. It'll be -24 C Saturday morning and -23 C Sunday morning. When the sun gets a chance to shine, the energy goes into melting the snow, but the air temperature doesn't warm up a great deal above freezing. That doesn't happen until most of the snow is gone."
Q: So it was an overall lousy winter, but we don't get to put it on a T-shirt. Perhaps you could leave us with a small message of hope?
A: "Sure. Spring always comes, Doug! It's just going to be a little delayed."
Q: Thank you, Dale.
A: "You're welcome."