Canada’s streak of dicey winter forecasts

Rollercoaster of weather patterns predicted for the upcoming winter season

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a published yearbook that has been providing weather forecasts since 1792. It is a popular tool that both Canadian and American citizens use to get a long-range annual forecast. Their predictions claim to be at 80% accuracy; however, some other forecast companies, such as Environment Canada and The Weather Network, may disagree. Although their outlooks may vary, there are also some commonalities between them. This is due to characteristics that affect our climate — such as El Niño — that shape the winter season in ways that all these weather stations can agree on. So, what kind of winter are we really going to experience this year?

The Canadian 2024 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac states that Atlantic Canada will generally experience winter temperatures above normal this year. Precipitation is also predicted to be above normal, except for much of the eastern region. December 2023 is expected to start with lots of sun, chilly temperatures, and a possible snowstorm. Midway through the month, temperatures will possibly become milder with periods of both rain and snow. Around Christmas, the weather may alternate between cold and mild, with snowstorms in the south and some rain throughout the region. For January and February, conditions may vary quite a bit — from sunny, mild, and rainy to heavy snow, extreme cold, and icy conditions. Generally, temperatures will remain above seasonal along with precipitation amounts. February tends to be the roughest month of winter; however, this year we could see a lack of weather systems during the beginning of the month. These are largely diverse, and rapidly changing conditions, but it is certainly not out of character for Atlantic Canada’s climate.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac makes these predictions based on an extraordinarily vague “secret formula” by the almanac’s founder, Robert B. Thomas. On the other hand, the “how we predict the weather” section of the almanac states: “We predict weather trends and events by comparing solar patterns and historical weather conditions with current solar activity.” Although the significance of the sun in terms of climatic influence is still debated in the science community, the 30-year statistical averages and comparisons between yearly conditions are crucial in basic weather forecasting. This is why The Old Farmer’s Almanac may be quite accurate, but not always. 

What do other stations have to say about this upcoming winter? Environment Canada has a more generalized forecast for the country. Specifically for New Brunswick, November to February could have temperatures that are above normal, with precipitation amounts being slightly above or near normal. Contrary to The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s predictions, Environment Canada expects a below normal snow cover — meaning less precipitation overall. Meanwhile, The Weather Network explains that a Modoki El Niño will be present this year, meaning that warm sea surface temperatures in El Niño are shifting into the central Pacific Ocean. Contrary to the mild winters typically present in Canada during El Niño, this year’s shift could result in cold air intrusions during mid-winter. Aside from this, November to December’s temperatures are expected to remain far above seasonal.

Overall, there are many variations in the 2023–2024 winter outlooks for Atlantic Canada. While forecasts are not entirely accurate on such a large temporal scale, historical data, as well as the patterns resulting from El Niño, can give forecasters a general idea of what is to come. Conclusively, it is safe to assume that this winter’s temperature will be mostly above normal, with a risk of cold snaps in the later months. Precipitation will likely be around normal, with northern parts of Atlantic Canada having a good chance of a snowy season, while southern areas are likely to see a bare and rainy season due to the climatic effects of the warm ocean. It would be beneficial to regularly check the short-term forecast for your region, as the weather will remain erratic for most of the Maritimes this year.

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