With summer now a fading memory and winter just around the corner, Islanders may be wondering if the coming dark season will bring back any of the horrors of last winter.
Just in case anyone has forgotten, the months of December and February saw significant snowfall accumulations that stayed on the ground for weeks at a time, with January providing a bit of a respite with milder temperatures and relatively light precipitation.
The cause of most of this winter mayhem was a strong and persistent La Nina cold water current in the Pacific Ocean that lasted until about mid March. Since that time, there haven’t been any unusually cold ocean currents, and none are expected in the near future.
The good news then, is that the coming winter should be a typical mild West Coast affair with maybe a few brief shots of cold weather, but nothing much more than that.
It’s well enough known that a normal West Coast winter is much milder than the rest of Canada, where people must find it a bit amusing that the ‘W’ word is even in our Vancouver Island vocabulary. I guess we can attribute that to Canada’s near universal observance of the astronomical winter that’s marked on most calendars and bears little relation to the weather.
It may also be that we feel a bit guilty we don’t get a true Canadian winter most of the time, so we try and play it down to the rest of the country as much as we can by using the same terms of reference as everyone else. But I digress.
What may not be so well known or noticed is that our period of coldest weather tends to begin as well as end earlier here than on most of the Canadian mainland.
Our two main winter months on Vancouver Island are December and January when we get our coldest temperatures and stormiest weather.
For the rest of the country, January and February are the two coldest months, although their severe weather events tend to be spread more evenly throughout the year.
This regional difference is due to the rapid autumn cooling caused by the Pacific Ocean along the West Coast, while warmer weather tends to persist a bit longer east of the Rockies away from the ocean during the immediate post-summer period.
However, the ocean doesn’t cool as much during the winter as the Canadian Interior, so by February in a normal year (which 2017 wasn’t) the coldest weather is departing the Island and we are starting to see the first signs of spring.
Meanwhile, the winter weather drags on for at least another month across the rest of Canada where the weather mostly originates in the high Arctic.
A similar contrast in winters can be seen in Europe where the mild West Coast climates of Ireland and the U.K. are similar to Vancouver Island, while the seasonal pattern for continental Europe (excluding the very mild Mediterranean region) is quite similar to most of the Canadian mainland.
The nice thing about Vancouver Island is that those who hate winter can hug the low-lying shorelines and valleys where it stays mild most of the time.
Meanwhile, those who enjoy the dark season can head for the higher elevations of the nearby mountains and hit the ski slopes well into April, just like the rest of Canada. So enjoy the coming winter, whichever way you like it served up!
Chris Carss is a Chemainus weather observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.