‘Typical’ fall weather could herald ‘bitingly cold’ winter: forecasters


As we're now dipping into the last month of the summer season, thoughts are turning to the fall (and even winter), and wondering what kind of weather we can all expect. Not to disappoint, weather forecasters have been issuing their seasonal outlooks, and they range from the 'typical' to the 'concerning', to the 'down-right alarming'.

In the 'typical' corner, The Weather Network's fall outlook came out today, calling for fairly normal weather in most parts of the country. Above normal temperatures are expected in the Maritimes, in northern Ontario, northern Quebec and up into the Nunavut, and along the south coast of British Columbia. Along with all of that, the Rockies, southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, plus northern Quebec and Nunavut are expected to get more precipitation than normal.

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In the 'concerning' corner, Accuweather.com is ramping things up for the east coast and up into Nunavut. They agree with The Weather Network on it being warmer out east, in northern Quebec and up into Nunavut, but they are saying residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as northern Quebec, should expect 'much above normal' temperatures. Also, they're saying that the eastern and northern parts of the country can expect a particularly dry season as well. In contrast to that, the Prairies get a cool and wet season, and southern Ontario can look forward to a wet season as well.

Now, for the 'alarming', the Farmer's Almanac actually completely skips over the fall and puts dire warnings on the coming winter. With "piercing cold" through the Prairies and up north, "biting cold & snowy" through Ontario, and "bitterly cold, snowy" in Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia, it seems to them like we're in for a pretty harsh season (B.C. gets off light with just "chilly" and Newfoundland and Labrador only get "cold"). They even go so far as to predict "heavy winter weather" for the first two weeks of February.

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How accurate are these forecasts?

The Weather Network and Accuweather (along with other organizations like NOAA and Environment Canada) make these seasonal forecasts by looking at what large-scale weather patterns (like El Niño, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation) are doing, and comparing these patterns to what has happened in the past. El Niño takes months to develop and alter its patterns, so it's fairly reliable for seasonal forecasting. The North Atlantic Oscillation is a bit trickier, as it can changing in a matter of weeks or even days. The combination of the two, at the moment, looks like it should give us a fairly normal season.

As for the Farmer's Almanac... well, although they won't reveal their formula, as it's 'super secret', they say they base their forecasts on planetary positions, lunar cycles and sun spots, and they boast 80% accuracy. However, putting their predictions up against what really happened has shown that their forecasts are really no better than a 50/50 chance, as good as you'd get by flipping a coin. When it comes down to it, forecasting a cold winter for Canada, and snowstorms in the first half of February for the U.S. Northeast, Quebec and the Maritimes are as close to 'sure things' as you can get.

(Photo courtesy: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

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