Ottawa could see its coldest temperature since 1996

·3 min read
A skater holds their glasses, fogged from wearing their mask in cold weather, as they make their way along the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa in mid-January. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A skater holds their glasses, fogged from wearing their mask in cold weather, as they make their way along the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa in mid-January. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Another day in January 2022, another extreme cold warning. This one could make it feel like –45 in western Quebec and bring the coldest temperature in Ottawa since 1996.

Environment Canada issued its fifth set of extreme cold warnings in the past 15 days, which cover all of eastern Ontario and western Quebec for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Rural communities in the Outaouais, outside of Gatineau, face the coldest outlook as the wind could make it feel around –40 to –45. Maniwaki's forecasted overnight low is –31 C; it reached -32 C Wednesday morning, without such a cold-feeling wind chill.

Ottawa and its surrounding communities could also hit that overnight low and if the capital hits –31 C, it would be the first time the city has been that cold since Jan. 31, 1996, when the thermometer read –33.1 C.

The city has been close with a daily low around –30 C three of the last four days. The wind could also make it feel in the range of –35 to –40 in these places overnight into Wednesday morning.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, the lowest temperature recorded at Ottawa's airport was -27 C and its lowest wind chill value, -36.

David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says Ottawa has gone 16 days without a melting temperature — something that's not uncommon for the city, but also a stretch it hasn't been seen in recent years.

For those who can remember before this cold snap, December was on average three to four degrees warmer than usual, something Phillips says fits with the trend of shorter and milder winters overall.

"This is not the beginning of the Ice Age cometh, we're still in an overheated planet, but it just shows you how variable it is," he said. "More swings from depths of cold to overheated summer situations."

He says the coldest temperature ever recorded in Ottawa was more than 100 years ago at an agricultural weather station on Feb. 13, 1913 when the temperature bottomed out at –42.8.

Rideau Canal should have a good February thanks to cold

Temperatures this low mean people should cover as much exposed skin as they can, dress in layers — ideally a wind-resistant outer layer — and watch for cold-related health problems such as muscle pain, numb extremities and shortness of breath.

"I think Mother Nature is mercifully going to make it not so brutally cold as it potentially could be if there were strong winds," Phillips said. The wind is expected to be blowing only five or six kilometres an hour in various directions in Ottawa Wednesday.

Ottawa's average temperature this month continues to drop, now sitting at –14.4 C as of Wednesday morning, according to Environment Canada, which is much lower than last January.

The forecast calls for an overnight low of –22 C on Wednesday night and then more seasonal weather during cloudy days on Thursday and Friday.

Phillips says "the dead of winter" is a week and half behind us now and, statistically, the temperatures will start to rise from now on. Expect milder days in February with nice thick ice on the Rideau Canal thanks to these few weeks, he said.

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