The temperatures have barely gone above zero degrees in Toronto, but that hasn’t stopped dog-walker George Cornthwaite.
“I’m in the park four or five times a week, walking my neighbour’s dogs,” he said while walking Shih Tzus, Toby and Arthur through Allen Gardens. “I like this weather.”
Last year Torontonians were walking around in t-shirts as winter turned to spring. But last year was an exception, and an example of climate change, with temperatures closer to 22 C on the first day of spring instead of the 0 C recorded this March 21.
“I don’t think this is a memorable winter at all,” Environment Canada spokesman David Phillips said. “It was probably only a good degree, degree-and-a-half warmer than normal.”
Phillips has over 40 years of experience at Environment Canada. Last September he made a bold claim that proved to be right. While talking to CTV’s Sandie Rinaldo, Phillips said that he expected it to be a much colder winter this year.
“Last year we cancelled winter in Canada,” Phillips told Rinaldo. “I bet a lot of money on this fact. It won’t be like last year.”
Phillips told Rinaldo that he thought this winter was going to be closer to normal temperatures. When he reflected on the prediction, Phillips shrugged off the fact that he was right.
“All I said was this would be more of a winter. Last year was the lowest amount of snow we’ve had in 70 years,” Phillips said. “Nature doesn’t produce two wacky, almost non-winters in a row.”
Karen Matthews, a meteorologist for the CBC, agreed with Phillips. She said the 30-year average for March in Toronto is 4.1 C and this year it was 3.9 C. Compared to the 12.4 C average of last March, this year has been much closer to normal.
“This is a general fluctuation in the weather,” Matthews said. “Part of the problem we have with weather is people tend to have very short-term memories and they only remember the bad weather and not the good weather.”
Farmer Roger Wright is happy this winter was closer to normal. He owns and operates the second most southern dairy farm in Canada and said that routine is important.
“We really don’t pay attention to weather trends because you have to prepare for the worst,” Wright said. “This is a normal spring [but] if it goes on any longer it [will] delay spring work.”
Wright said the cows, 100 in all, prefer the cold weather. But it’s the wind that worries him.
“They drop in production and can get pneumonia in the draft,” he said.
The Prairies were hit by much colder temperatures than Toronto. Matthews said this is because the jet stream from the Arctic brought more cold air down than usual.
“The city of Regina did see above average snowfall and areas of Saskatchewan around Regina were close to breaking snowfall records,” she said.
Jennifer Graham is a reporter for The Canadian Press who lives in Regina. She has gotten used to the snow over the years but said this year was especially cold.
“It has been the never-ending winter in Regina this year. We’ve had snow since mid-October,” she said. “We’ve had a record snowfall this year and several weeks where the temperature was in the minus 30s — without the wind chill.”
Last August, Graham wrote a story for the Canadian Press about a survey that concluded that only two per cent of Canadians believe climate change is not occurring.
“I was a little surprised,” said Graham “I thought the two per cent number might be higher.”
Phillips said Canadians are starting to become more aware of climate change, but it’s important to recognize the difference between climate and weather.
“You really don’t feel or see climate, [it’s] the statistics of weather,” Phillips said. “Anyone who tries to take the weather of the day and link it to climate change is just off the wall.”
Matthews believes climate change is happening, but feels it is too early to make any major conclusions about it yet.
“I think we need to wait and analyse the data,” she said. “I believe we are too close to the data to see how much humans are affecting the climate or if it’s a regular trend of warming and cooling that occurs over millennia.”
She said it is also possible to be too late to make any changes.
“If we do wait too long to look at the data, it might be too late to do anything to decrease the situation, so it’s kind of a tricky situation,” she said. “We need to wait at least a decade or so until we have more data.”
Wright said he is already noticing climate change on his farm.
“Summers are warmer and longer than they used to be when we were kids,” he said. “We do not have really cold or snowy winters the way we used to have either.”
After Phillips correctly predicted that the winter would be colder, he said it was difficult to say what the rest of this year would bring.
“Spring is going to be a little slow to come because you have to melt the snow and thaw the ground before you get those warm summer days where you are drinking beer out on the patio,” Phillips said. “It would be nice to be able to figure it out, but there is no clue of one season helping you determine what the next season will be.”
For Cornthwaite, he is going to continue to walk his neighbour’s dogs no matter the weather.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I know that spring is on its way.”