A winter not seen for 42 years

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Roger Deveau of Charlottetown clears the snow off the roof of his house following a January snowstorm. The Island was hit with heavy snowfalls throughout January, leaving homeowners scrambling to clear away the heavy snow.

Last week P.E.I. saw a “mini White Juan” storm that brought 48.5 centimetres (cm) of snow measured at Charlottetown airport. White Juan refers to the brutal blizzard of February 19, 2004 nicknamed after Hurricane Juan, a storm that hit P.E.I. on September 29, 2003 with wind gusts up to 140 km/h causing flooding, uprooting of trees and infrastructure damage in the Charlottetown Harbour.

White Juan brought 120 km/h winds and 74.4 cm of snow at Charlottetown which remains the maximum 24-hour total since records began. Last week’s storm was a mini-version with lighter winds (98 km/h) and less snow, but it still reminds us of our vulnerability to extreme cold weather. Good preparations and planning helped P.E.I. emerge without too many tragedies this past week. Community leaders should be commended for their work in getting the message out to take this storm seriously.

Last week’s storm seems to have been one of many during this particularly cold and stormy winter of 2014. Over the past thirty years, there has been a definite downward trend in the amount of snow that P.E.I. has received, but not this winter. We have to go back 42 years to find a year with more snow. If we consider the snowfall months to be November, December, January, February and March, then this year’s snowfall has been about 417 cm of the white stuff, the most since 425 cm fell in 1972. On average, the snowfall this winter season has been almost 60 per cent more than the normal, or what is expected.

This year’s snowfall has been particularly jarring as the past two winters have been very dry indeed. And yes, this winter has been colder than normal by almost 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The winter of 1972 was a much different winter than this year’s. By the end of March, 1972 had 80 days of snowfall, while this year P.E.I. has had only 47 days with snowfall. By the end of March, the winter of 1972 had many days of small snowstorms with none above 25 cm, while this year P.E.I. has had four major snowstorms on December 22 (27 cm), January 22 (37.4 cm), February 19 (27.8 cm) and March 26 (48.5 cm).

The winter of 1972 went on to have 531 cm of snow once the months of April and May were added to the total. I hope that the winter of 2014 does not have any more surprises for P.E.I.

And before you curse the winter, after you have shovelled this recent back- breaking load of snow off your driveway, remember that a cold and snowy winter can be good for the environment and economy. Some P.E.I. businesses enjoyed a financial boost thanks to the early winter weather in December 2013.

Businesses that offer sleigh and wagon rides looked at this snowfall as an early Christmas present, as their sales figures jumped about 50 per cent over the previous December. Brookvale Ski Park opened before Christmas for the first time in at least 10 years and automobile towing businesses saw an increase of 20-30 per cent from normal due to the snow.

Snow is also necessary for farmers. The snow blankets the fields so that when it all melts in the spring, the fields are properly irrigated and ready for planting. Certain crops such as the fruits and berries also need snow cover to provide insulation from extreme cold.

When these crops are exposed to the elements, they become vulnerable to frost which can kill the crop outright. If you hate mosquitoes, you should probably celebrate this awful winter as mosquito populations should be reduced by the severe cold, too. While a sustained cold snap won't wipe out these pests, it can kill some larvae and slow the bugs' spread.

Note: Don Jardine and I have put together over 365 weather trivia stories for a calendar titled “150 Years of Prince Edward Island Weather”. From humorous tales of pigs swimming down the street after their barn flooded during the Kennedy Inaugural Storm of 1961 to the tragedy of the Yankee Gale of 1851 where one hundred fisherman (mainly Americans) were drowned on P.E.I.’ s north shore, the P.E.I. Weather Trivia Calendar is bound to meet the needs of the weather junkie in you. Watch your bookstores as it is being printed for release in May.

Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at afenech@upei.ca or ( 902) 620- 5220

Dr. Adam Fenech is Director, UPEI Climate Research Lab

Organizations: P. E., Yankee Gale

Geographic location: Charlottetown, P.E.I., Brookvale Ski Park

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