August 10, 2020

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City's worst winter since 1898

Canada's national forecaster has hard, cold facts to prove it

Dwarfed by piles of snow left over from winter, pedestrians make their way along Palmerston Avenue recently.


Dwarfed by piles of snow left over from winter, pedestrians make their way along Palmerston Avenue recently.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/4/2014 (2319 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Congratulations, Winnipeggers, you are in the midst of surviving the worst winter on record since 1898.

That's right, 1898, when the Spanish-American War was raging and the Montreal Victorias won their fourth-straight Stanley Cup. The year of the first recorded motor-vehicle fatality and the year Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium.

Yeah, that long.

"Nobody alive can say they've had it colder in Winnipeg," Dave Phillips, the national meteorologist with Environment Canada, said Friday. "The story about this winter was the relentlessness of it. There was really no break. It was from the get-go. Even October was a half-degree colder than normal.

"Nobody had the look and feel of winter more than Winnipeg," he said. "So if we award the prize for citizens who've endured the toughest winter, I think you guys would win gold. I'm not sure you want to brag about misery, but... "

According to Phillips, the average temperature in December was -20.5 C, followed by January (-20.0 C) and February (-19.9 C). Then came March, which averaged -12.5 C, almost seven degrees colder than average.

That's what sent Phillips scouring the record books of Winnipeg temperatures dating back to the 1870s. He calculated the average temperature during the past four months at -18.3 C. In 1898, the average Winnipeg temperature from December to March was -18.4 C.

Even more impressive, said Phillips, was the severity of a 2014 winter in the age of global warming.

"It's hard to break a cold-weather record nowadays," he said. "When you compare Winnipeg to 1898, think about it -- there was only about 40,000 people. No cars. No heavy industry. No pavement. Not a lot of burning going on. So when you think you can break a record this year with all the urbanized effect, what they talk about in terms of climate change, it really is quite remarkable."

But wait, there's more. The average number of days the temperature plummets to -30 C is 12 in Winnipeg. This year, "there were 30 of those suckers," Phillips said.

"So not only was it persistent, but it was intensely cold," he said.

So while all the newsworthy issues associated with this winter -- blizzards, potholes, frozen water pipes -- have dominated the headlines, Phillips noted there's another cost: heating.

"Just to keep comfortable, you have to burn about 17 per cent more heating fuel because of the demands of the cold," he said. "So you can grin and bear it, but it takes money out of your pocket, too."

Not cold enough for you? Then consider that despite the length and depth of cold this winter, the snowfall now stands at 155 centimetres, well above the average of 100 cm.

One plus of the coldest winter in more than a century is it probably has a positive effect on modest flood forecasts. Why? "It's been so cold it's probably the driest snow that's ever existed in the city," Phillips said.

But just remember that despite temperatures climbing to near zero Friday, April can also be cruel. In fact, 12 per cent of snowfall, on average, comes after April 1.

"You don't write the obituary on winter unless it's late May," Phillips said. "It's not going to happen overnight. You're not going from slush to sweat.

"Winter is a bully at this time of year. It's hard to get rid of it."

Randy Turner

Randy Turner

Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.

Read full biography


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Winnipeggers hurry across Portage Avenue at Vaughan in high winds and bitterly cold temperatures Wednesday afternoon. This cold snap isn't expected to warm significantly until next week, according to Environment Canada. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Winnipeg's winter weather woes
Photos by: Winnipeg Free Press
Traffic moves slowly through the water from a large water main break on southbound lanes of Route 90 at Selkirk Avenue on a -25C Tuesday morning. Water main breaks have consistently plagued city workers and commuters this winter. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press)
High winds and blowing snow on CentrePort Canada Way face drivers coming in and out of the city as temperatures dropped to around -30 C on Feb. 26. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Darren Melanson shovels snow on Lyndale Drive in mid-February. Though Winnipeg is infamous for its harsh winters, this one has already been colder and snowier than many in recent memory. ( BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)
Jeff Monk, facility manager at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, tidies up around the building after a fresh 10-centimetre overnight snowfall in mid-February. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)
An all-too-brief break in bitter cold brought hundreds to the Forks to skate and walk the River Trail on the Louis Riel Day long weekend. From left, Debra Eddi, 10, Marina  Wedaju, 12, and Salamawit Gebarasaage, 13.  ( KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)
With freezing weather comes frozen pipes. Hundreds of Winnipeggers have been without water as they wait for the city to heat up frozen water lines like this one under Mulvey Avenue.  (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Three Amphibex ice-breaking machines were out on the Red River north of Selkirk earlier this month as part of the 2014 ice jam mitigation program, which apparently wasn't a sign of early spring. (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)
At least it looks pretty. Bulldozers push snow up and over a huge mountain of snow at Wilkes and the West Perimeter Highway Wednesday evening.  (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

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