Environment Canada shrugs off winter weather riling Canadians

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Associated Press

TORONTO - Canadians may not agree on much, but today they're coming together with hatred for two people - old man winter and mother nature.

Social media is abuzz with laments about frigid temperatures, high winds, freezing rain and even heavy snowfalls that lashed Ontario before moving east.

Many of the western provinces are still buried under several centimetres of snow.

But Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips says Canadians shouldn't be so surprised.

He says April is the most unpredictable stretch of the year, adding most cities report snowfall at some point during the month.

Phillips says Canadians may have been lulled into a false sense of security based on last year's unusually warm spring.

"We were spoiled so much by last year. March and April, we went from slush to sweat and we didn't really have a spring," Phillips said in a telephone interview. "And spring can be difficult because it's essentially when we reset the map from a winter to a summer mode."

Phillips said the volatile weather that defines April is caused by the frequent clash between cold and warm air systems struggling for dominance. The result is a mixed bag of precipitation ranging from rain to snow and temperatures that fluctuate between seasonal extremes.

The clash was very much in evidence across Ontario on Friday as the province dug out from what looked and felt like a winter storm. Electricity provider Hydro One said at least 25,000 people were without power after freezing rain and high winds downed power lines across the province.

Extreme weather alerts remained in effect in Ottawa, where most school buses were forced off the road. And throughout Ontario people shovelled driveways, rearranged schedules and tried to cope with the fact that spring had not yet sprung.

The system was expected to reach Quebec later Friday, while the Maritimes were set to brace for up to 15 centimetres of snow later this weekend. A similar snowfall from a different system was forecasted to fall over Alberta, Phillips said.

Social media chatter indicated most Canadians were less than impressed.

"Not a fan of this vile weather out there. Where is the sun? Where is the TO heat we're used to in April?!," asked twitter user @erinkmckay.

"Nothing says mid-April like a 20cm snowfall warning. Thanks for that one Mother Nature," wrote prairie dweller @mckenzicle.

Some tried to cope with inclement conditions through humour.

"Hey #Toronto, if you're still deciding on weather-appropriate clothes for today, I suggest a tarp layered over a duvet," advised @lauradilabio.

Still others managed to find a silver lining.

"Appreciate the team work Mother Nature, extra three days to study for my exam!" wrote @_heathcook.

Phillips said April is preparing yet another virtuoso display of unpredictability in the coming days. Ontarians reaching for mittens on the weekend may be donning T-shirts by next week as temperatures soar to as high as 18 degrees C.

Similar relief awaits the eastern provinces, but areas west of Manitoba may have headaches in store as unusually heavy snowfalls melt away and usher in what promises to be a punishing flood season.

While such conditions may be the norm for April, Phillips said he doesn't blame Canadians for not accepting them.

"We put up with long winters and even early winters, but really what gets us is when they hang on," he said. "When March and April are more winter-like than summer-like, we really get testy. The mood of the country changes."

Still, Phillips urged winter-weary Canadians not to despair.

"It may be winter's last hurrah," he said. "The farther you are from April 1, then the more difficult it is for winter to come back."