Yahoo! Exclusive: Climatologist Dave Phillips calls Sandy ‘a bit odd,’ expects more snow this winter

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
November 7, 2012

North America was enraptured with the coverage of Hurricane Sandy as it cut across the Eastern Seaboard last week. The damaging storm system was among the most talked-about weather events of the year — a year that included record-setting heat in the East, melting icecaps in the North and an absence of winter pretty much everywhere.

Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips talked to Yahoo! Canada News about Hurricane Sandy, the record-breaking summer and what to expect from the coming winter.

Here are some excerpts from his interview:

Y! Canada: First of all, let's talk about Hurricane Sandy. The term "Frankenstorm" was used to refer to this event. Was it a one-of-a-kind storm? What do you think about nicknames like that?

Phillips: I think the fertile minds of reporters and meteorologists on the midnight shift sometimes look for "Snowmaggedon," and "Frankenstorm" and "The Storm of the Century." How many storms of the century have you lived through? That is just the nature of it. You don't know if it is because the weather had gotten more weird, wild and wacky or if there is just somebody trying to embellish or put a label on these things.

In a way, this storm is not just like its brothers and sisters of the past. Every storm is unique. That is the problem. If they were all the same we'd have this thing figured out. The fact that this storm would actually do a left turn at New York or New Jersey and head toward Toronto is a bit odd. I don't think I have ever seen that before.

Y! Canada: Hurricane Sandy seems to have come late in the hurricane season (usually between June and November). How has this season been compared to previous years?

Phillips: It is a strange one. [Sandy] came later in the season but we can certainly get them in November. It has been a busy year. We are up to about 19 or 20 of these — I think a Tony has been identified. We only have two names left — Valerie and William — then we would have to resort to the Greek alphabet [to name storm systems]. Certainly it has been one of the busiest years. I can only remember the year of Katrina [in 2005] that we ever ran out of names … We normally would see 11 or 12 tropical storms and we have already had 19 or 20.

Y! Canada: How are the names of storm systems determined?

Phillips: There are six lists, so we repeat them every six years. But I dare say Sandy will never make another appearance, because when it is a powerful blow… the name is usually retired. They won't use it again. They will pick another name — a female name starting with S with less than nine characters. It could be English, French or Spanish because we are dealing with the Atlantic Ocean.

Y! Canada: Aside from Sandy, what have been the big weather stories so far this year?

Phillips: I think the year has been very warm. We had, last year, one of the warmest and driest winters on record in Canada. Toronto had its warmest. We had that incredible March. Some climatologists have described it as the most unusual anomaly in North American history, when we had summer in spring and it went on forever. The ice melting in the Arctic has been a big story and, from a weather point of view, there was the terrible Montreal flood that occurred in May, and the Calgary hailstorm.

Y! Canada: You mentioned the warm winter in southern Ontario, but summer was warm, too.

Phillips: We had, I think it total, 24 days when the temperature got above 30 C, and a lot of warm nights. It was also a smoggy year, so it wasn't necessarily a healthy kind of summer. Farmers were clearly beat up. We got some rain later on but it didn't happen at the time of pollination, which is critical for the corn and soy beans. There was some disappointment because the growing season could have been more prosperous.

Y! Canada: Let me ask you about winter. How is it going to be this year? Can we expect the same as last year?

Phillips: My sense is it is going to be much more of a winter this year. It will start earlier, go later and be tougher in between. It could still be warmer than normal; there could be less snow that normal. But I am comparing it to last year, which is the year we cancelled winter. It will be a more traditional kind of winter. Our models are all over the place. There is an El Nino out there, which generally means a mild winter. But it is a weak El Nino. It is just holding on.

We are looking at November, December and January being a little milder that normal in the East, but nowhere near as mild as last year. And we are calling for near-normal conditions in the West. There will be a good amount of snowfall across Canada, so it will be great for skiers and snowboarders. But those people who don't like winter, they had their time last year.

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