The Canadian winter that never was -

The Canadian winter that never was

In 65 years, we’ve never seen such warm winter days with so little snow

The winter that never was

Photograph by Tim Smith

Canada without winter is a foreign place. Not white, not cold, not snowy, like most of us have known it to be. Not conducive to carnivals across the country that attempt to celebrate this inhospitable but beautiful season. For 43 years, Winnipeg has hosted the Festival du Voyageur in February—when winter has traditionally been most wintry. “We have snow sculptures, the snow maze, the snow mountain, toffee [served] on snow, and the snow bar,” explains spokesperson Emili Bellefleur. One would have to be hypothermic not to see the importance of snow.

So, when the city received nearly none from above this season, there was only one thing to do: fake it. More than 200 loads of man-made snow were delivered by a local company, which usually supplies ski resorts. It wasn’t free; the bill totalled $10,000. And it wasn’t ideal. “We saw brown, rusty spots from the dump truck, and the texture wasn’t as good. You could see chunks of ice,” says Bellefleur. But “it was real snow. Not Styrofoam or plastic.” Or mud or dead grass. And in the winter, in Canada, that matters.

This is, after all, a country so defined by snow and cold that our money features outdoor ice skaters and hockey players (the $5 bill), polar bears (the toonie), snowy owls (old $50 bills) and icebreakers (new $50 bills). We boast corporate empires built around the sale of snow tires and shovels (Canadian Tire), cold medication (Shoppers Drug Mart), long johns (Stanfield’s), down-filled coats (Canada Goose), and even hot chocolate served at Christmas in paper cups decorated with snowflakes and, of course, outdoor ice skaters and hockey players (Tim Hortons). Among the most valuable paintings by two of our most famous artists (Paul Kane and Lawren Harris) are those of stunning snowy, icy settings. Our fermented frozen grapes are world-class, and no other country produces more or better maple syrup than us. Canada is, as we all have sung, “the true North,” thank you very much.

That our national identity, our culture and our economy are so tied to winter makes what’s happened over the last few months all the more disconcerting. On average, Canada experienced temperatures 3.6° C higher than normal this winter, and 18 per cent less precipitation. This season was, in fact, the third warmest and the second driest in 65 years. Which might not sound so bad except that the last two times it was warmer, in 2009-10 and 2005-06, it was much snowier and wetter. And the last time it was drier, in 1956-57, it was colder. Until now, Canada has never had such hot days with so little snow. “So in many ways,” says David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada, “this has truly been the year that winter was cancelled.”

Even more unusual: this was the exact situation in every region, no matter how far north or south, east or west. “In the second-largest country in the world, it’s hard to get the same story,” explains Phillips, but “Canadians from Goobies, Nfld., to Yoho, B.C., to Kugluktuk, Nunavut,” were all asking one question: “Where is winter?”

We were, in other words, united in the absence of the one thing that has long united us. Edmonton, Winnipeg, London, Ont., and Halifax all experienced 25 per cent less snow this year than normal, while Regina, Ottawa, and Montreal received more than a third less. In Vancouver, rather than the typical 45 cm of precipitation, they got just eight. In Toronto, only 38 cm of snow fell, compared to the usual 90 cm. It was never below -20° C for 24 hours in Toronto or Halifax, which usually get at least a few days that cold. Everywhere, the number of sub-zero days dropped. “It really has been a spectacular winter across the country,” says Phillips. “It’s just been unbelievable. I can’t remember a winter like it.”

For better or worse, this will remain a memorable winter in the ways that it has affected every aspect of Canadian society—and the ways it might yet. Construction starts have increased, while demand for natural gas for heating has decreased. Retailers of winter apparel and sports equipment have laid off employees to offset excess inventory, or slashed prices to below-profit levels. ATVs have supplanted snowmobiles as the recreational rental vehicle of choice. Sales of cottages have risen because buyers have been able to use seasonal roads to see properties; car sales have risen because good road conditions make for enthusiastic shoppers. Cities have spent less on snow removal and salting, but more on fixing potholes.

Flu rates have been low, partly because we haven’t been cooped up inside, exchanging germs. Robins have arrived early from the south; some never left. Hibernating animals and amphibians are rousing sooner than usual; some never went to sleep. Pests weren’t killed off by the cold, and will probably be worse than ever in the months ahead: alfalfa weevils, corn flea beetles, bean leaf beetles and pine beetles could ravage crops and trees. (Blackflies, ticks, hornets and wasps could plague us like never before.) And grass fires—yes, grass fires—have raged in the Prairies this winter. “Albertans have to be just as careful now as they would be in the middle of summer,” warned a local official.

But perhaps the biggest consequence of this “warmer and drier than normal winter” will be what it means to our sense of self. “From the very beginning, winter was embraced as something that described a distinctive Canadian identity. Something that distinguished Canada from American and British culture, and from other European nations,” says Cynthia Sugars, an English professor at the University of Ottawa. Cartoons from the time of Confederation show early settlers ridiculing newcomers struggling to cope with the unfathomable cold and snow. “Being able to adapt to winter [has been] taken as a sign of belonging, of becoming Canadian, in a way.”

Without this defining season to set us apart, to demonstrate how tough and determined we are as a people—to hang our flag on, so to speak—what does it mean to be Canadian? “I don’t think people have been talking about winter in cultural terms yet. People talk about it in terms of the destruction of the planet and global warming and in environmental terms. Canadians are worried about those things,” says Sugars. “But I’m not sure it’s really hit them, to tell you the truth, in terms of what this will do to Canadians’ sense of themselves. And I think that’s a very interesting question.”

For the last 65 years, temperatures have risen across the country, and all signs suggest this will continue. Winter is melting away from Canada. And it’s threatening to take our national identity with it. “We feel that we are heroes, that we are battling the snow. There’s a whole mythology that Canada is cold,” says Franke James, a Toronto-based author and artist whose work often includes themes relating to warming winters and what they signal about the way we live today, and what they might mean for our future. To her, “Canada without winter is a huge loss,” she says. “This is really going to shake our identity to the core.”

Before winter had begun, weather experts were warning Canadians to brace for an exceptionally cold and snowy season. “Every forecaster worth their salt was saying the same thing. Even the Americans were saying, ‘Canada, get ready, you’re going to have the worst winter in 20 years,’ ” says Phillips. “We kept waiting, and we kept saying, ‘It’s warm in December, but just you wait, in January and February [winter] is going to kick into effect!’ ” It never did, as we all now know. But those wildly inaccurate predictions haven’t been forgotten. They are, says Phillips, “the embarrassment of this year.”

They weren’t unfounded, however. Forecasters were anticipating that winter would fall mercy to the power of La Niña, a phenomenon caused by an ocean-atmosphere interaction that cools the waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and typically produces a bitter, snowy winter in Canada. Although that didn’t happen, it was a good bet: “When you look at the last 16 La Niñas, the vast majority produced winters that were colder than normal,” explains Phillips. “You’d go to the bank on that.”

Rather, another weather phenomenon was taking hold of winter. A jet stream kept cold air far north this season, in an almost summer position, “which allowed warmer than average temperatures to prevail” across Canada and the United States, says Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What we were spared swept across Europe, Russia and Siberia, which all experienced deathly winters. Record low temperatures and snowstorms in countries such as Italy and Ukraine have killed more than 150 people, and trapped thousands more inside immobilized trains, delayed airplanes, and remote communities.

Here, too, remote communities have suffered, but in another way. The warm winter hindered the construction of ice roads across the North, prompting some chiefs to declare a state of emergency in January. In the Mackenzie district temperatures have risen about 5° C over the last several decades. Every year, efforts to truck food, fuel and other essential supplies into the North are increasingly jeopardized.

That’s to say nothing of how the lack of cold and snow has damaged the way of life of First Nations communities so dependent on winter for their very survival. “There are certain cultures, like Inuit culture, that need the cold like others need water,” says Adam Gopnik, an author and journalist who has lectured on the topic of winter. “The right to be cold is as much a right as any other—which almost sounds absurd when you first hear it, but it makes perfect sense. Warmer winters are a tragedy, a catastrophe.”

The warming trend is most extreme in the North, but across Canada temperatures have been increasing for the last 65 years. “If you drew a line through all of the data you would see that winters now are warmer, on average, by over 3° C,” says Phillips. You’d also see that the three warmest winters have all occurred in the last six years. That has some experts concerned that we are experiencing an environmental crisis brought on by excessive greenhouse gasses, not just an aberration in weather pattern predictions.

“The global average temperature has gone up by just under 1° C over the past century. In Canada, we’ve experienced several times that global average increase,” says Ian Bruce, climate change specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver. As a northern country, we’ve historically been covered in snow and ice—which reflect solar rays. “As temperatures get hotter because of greenhouse gas emissions, our ice and snow start to melt. That reveals either dark land or ocean—which absorbs more sunlight. That intensifies the warming even further.” The effects are far-reaching, he says, with rising temperatures “dramatically impacting ecosystems and the natural timing of seasons.”

There are, of course, various ideas about why we are having warmer winters. One theory suggests that after a period of strong sun activity during this century, the world will undergo a “mini ice age” as part of a natural solar cycle. A more common belief is that, in the future, we will increasingly experience erratic and severe weather—say, mild winters interrupted by disastrous blizzards and tornadoes, as just occurred in Newfoundland and parts of the States. Forecasters such as Phillips expect this to be true. Both he and Crouch emphasize that many factors combine to create the weather outside our windows, and that evidence of climate change requires more than one season of insufficient snow and cold. What no one can deny is that a pattern has been set: “Given the fact that we know our winters have clearly warmed up, I suppose that is the new normal,” says Phillips.

That is to say, the winter of our youth—with snowbanks so high you could climb onto bungalow roofs, with lakes and rivers frozen so thick you could drive a truck on them for kilometres to reach the farthest ice-fishing hut, with mountaintops so snowy it appeared as though they were wearing marshmallow toupées—is fast becoming just that: a relic of the past.

Even the most iconic winter image in Canada, that of children skating and playing hockey on an ice rink outside, is in peril. Researchers at McGill and Concordia universities in Montreal published a scientific paper, the first of its kind, in early March in the journal of Environmental Research Letters, which found that between 1951 and 2005, the outdoor skating season shortened throughout most of Canada because of a lack of consecutive cold days needed to create and maintain ice rinks. They expect it to get worse as winters continue to warm.

And they’re worried: “The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of Canadian identity and culture. Wayne Gretzky learned to skate on a backyard skating rink; our results imply that such opportunities may not be available to future generations of Canadian children.”

In Dunnville, Ont., when students at a local elementary school had to revise their annual winter carnival plans because of the weather, they moved it indoors. The most creative modification they made was also the eeriest. Ordinarily, the “snowball obstacle race” would occur in the playground with, well, snowballs. This year, the event was held in the hallway—with beach balls.

However jarring the substitution, it is in keeping with the notion that Canadians are exceptionally adaptable—a trait that harsh winters have fostered within us. “The climate has conditioned Canadians to the ever-present force of nature, and to the need to adapt, to be flexible,” says Max Foran, a Canadian studies professor at the University of Calgary. By extension, “the Canadian psyche is paradoxical,” he continues. Proud of how we withstand the cold, yet flocking to the tropics to escape it. Grumbling while shovelling, yet lamenting the lack of snow.

In this way, the death of winter might not be the death of Canada as we know it. “In the end, it’s not an ultimate tragedy,” says Gopnik. “Climate changes, the world changes. In the long run we’ll adjust. But in the immediate run, part of our inner life comes from the condition of being cold. And when you change the outer world, you change your inner world. We’ll have a period of mourning until we have a new kind of imagination.”

That might happen sooner than we think. Winnipeg’s festival is rather heartening. Despite the worry that no snow would mean low attendance, just the opposite happened: record numbers of Canadians came out to celebrate winter. Their motivation was nothing if not ironic. They were buoyed by the warm weather.


The Canadian winter that never was

  1. Its snowing in Vancouver today. Global warming is a myth… ; )

    • Nice one:)
      I was just thinking, I haven’t seen the plethora of anecdotal evidence this year vis a vis climate change denial,  that I was used to seeing in previous years. No photos of frost in Toronto etc.
      Your one-liner beat me to it.

    • Solution: move to Winnipeg… and become a believer!

    • no its not a myth! you are!

  2. Canada is a mish-mash of rain, ice, snow, cold and hot summers. One winter doesn’t say it all.
    And who wants to retire in that kind of weather.

  3. Some people can’t see the forest because of the trees, this author can’t see the climate change because of the weather. There’s an ocean of evidence to support AGW perhaps the author should read some of it.

    • Really? I’ve been researching this topic for more than a decade – I’ve yet to come across this evidence. There’s lots of massaged data, lots of lost data. There’s billions of dollars sunk into computer models that are as good at predicting climate as a set of random numbers. There are billions of dollars in grant money just waiting to be awarded to the activist “scientist” that screams the loudest. There are 85% of NOAA weather stations that don’t meet their own techincal specifications for proper installation. There’s also the head of CRU East Anglia that can’t run a least squares regression analysis in excel. There’s also over 700 citiations of grey literature and activist propaganda in the 2007 IPCC report….and as yet no evidence….

      •  Really? If that’s what you learned in a decade, you clearly need to adjust your researching skills – for starters you should try looking outside of the Koch Institute’s library.

  4. Increasing attention is being given to this issue and I for one welcome it. But the most important aspect to focus on here is the trend. Isolated occurrences can be used by those on both sides of this issue: a harsh snowstorm is “proof” to the deniers that global warming is a myth, just like a warmer and drier winter is proof to those like me who believe the scientists are right. The trend tells us what the science predicts: that steadily increasing greenhouse gas emissions from various human activities over many decades are the main culprit in the observed trend of global warming.

    Canada is being affected more than the global average as northern latitudes are more susceptible to these climate changes. Milder winters may be nice and a better northwest passage may be economically beneficial. But we must never fail to see the bigger picture: that in years to come, future generations all over the world are going to suffer terribly because of this problem. Coastal flooding, more extreme weather such as hurricanes and droughts, extension of vectors causing diseases like malaria; all of these are going to be realities for our children and grandchildren to cope with.

    I’m a proud Canadian, but I can see past the potential effects climate change will have on our national identity. What’s most important at this point is to consider ourselves citizens of planet Earth, and realize the much worse devastation our home will face across the globe, and not just in our own backyard.

    • You say: the trend tells us what the science predicts: that steadily increasing
      greenhouse gas emissions from various human activities over many decades
      are the main culprit in the observed trend of global warming.”

      How many decades? Didn’t this warming trend begin at the the middle of the Little Ice Age; from which we are still emerging? At what point in the last 350 years did CO2 take over as the cause of the warming trend, and nature drop out?

      And what caused the warming that led to the heat wave of the Middle Ages when they farmed in Greenland – artifacts of which they are now jack-hammering out of the permafrost?

      • The Little Ice Age was from ~1550-1850.  It was almost exclusively only in the northern hemisphere, and was ~1C cooler.  Now we have GLOBAL warming, and we have passed the temperature peak from before the LIA by ~0.2C.  The rate of warming we’ve beens seeing for the last >50 years is unprecedented in human history.
        The warming in Greenland, again, was a local event, not GLOBAL.  Greenland and Antartcical have a fascinating see-saw relationship–as Greenland was getting warmer, Antarctica cooled, and the GLOBAL temperature was fairly steady.

  5. There is increasing evidence that articles like this are the cause of the cold and wet summer vacations that thousands, if not millions, of Canadians have been experiencing.

    I’ll bet a case of beer that next summer will be one of them.  Any takers?

  6. Ask the people in Europe. They got hammered this year. It snowed in Rome this winter, first time in 30 years. London had a very cold winter. See for example:

    • Global warming is GLOBAL… some arease will cool temporarily (that’s called weather), but the planet keeps getting hotter.
      For that matter, weird weather of all kinds are more likely with GW, as the heat in the oceans and atmosphere drives the weather.
      See Meehle 2009

  7. Earth’s temperature has not risen for at least a decade. 
    You need to look at all the temperatures in the graphs for the last 10 years – its down.

    Another decade of cooling and AGW models will start to break.  

    • Not sure what you’re looking at. The graph called “Global Surface Temperature” shows a clear upward trend in temperature over the past decade. All of the other indicators in those plots also point to increasing temperatures.

      The outdoor rinks were open for only about six weeks this year. It was very disappointing.

    • I looked at the link, and unsurprisingly, it shows global warming, prefaced with “This page presents the latest information from several independent measures of observed climate change that illustrate an overwhelmingly compelling story of a planet that is undergoing global warming.”
      Perhaps your screen us upside down?

  8. I live in Sudbury. I dare you to come up and tell anyone here that winter didn’t show up. We had snow up to our hips as of last week. Ramsay lake is still supporting snow mobiling and ice fishing. David Phillips has NO idea what goes on. He changes his outlook with the breeze.

    • Yeah its really different across Canada this Winter. Here in Southern Ontario, we have had 25 degree weather for about 2-3 days now, and is suppose to stay that way for another couple of days. Thermometer was reading 27 degrees today at about 3:30pm where I was. Now that changed when I travelled 20 kilometers, and could feel the temperature change, but 25 degrees in march for 5 consecuative days is crazy! last year on my birthday I got new shoes, didn’t wear them much because of all the snow ice and mud. this year it was hot, dry, not a bit of water, and absolutely NO snow at all. Now I know its heritage to have snow, but hey, I can’t say im complaining too much about it.  

  9. Basically the jist of this article is- it’s not cold enough to feel Canadian enough. Jesus Christ macleans get your stuff together, to think this petty nonsense makes the front page, my GOD! 

  10. Sixty-five years ago temperatures were cooling and climate scientists were scaring us about the prospects of an impending ice age.  Now climate scientists are using those cold temperatures as a base point to ‘prove’ that CO2 is causing global warming!  Of course you can show that teperatures have increased if you start your data at the bottom of a climate cycle and end it at the top of the cycle.  How stupid do they think we are?


      This argument is oft repeated, Lorne, but the documentary evidence shows that there was not an overwhelming amount of climate scientists “scaring us about the prospects of an impending ice age.” Naomi Orestes has an excellent book that discusses the topic, too, if you have the time to check.

    • Scientists were not claiming this (except for 7 published papers), the media was — it makes good copy to scare us about an ice age.  The vast majority of published scientific papers predicted global warming–see Peterson’s review, 2008.

      •  I respectfully disagree with you. I doesn’t take much Googling to find that scientists warned Richard Nixon about global cooling and his government formed a plan around around these warnings. I myself, remember some of the chatter back then. There still scientists that believe that we are going into a cooling. That’s the problem with all of this, there seems to be evidence for both sides. Makes it very hard for the average person to decide. I believe strongly that we should not pollute the planet. I am very leery, though, of the industry that has sprung up around the term ‘green’. A whole new wave of consumerism is NOT good for the planet.

    • scientific advancements of the last 20 years are unprecedented, if there is a consensus among scientist above 95 percent, its accepted, the skepticism is drummed up media notion produced by those whose interests are monitarily concerned, there is actually more than enough economic evidence of this type of spin then there is evidence against climate change. i mean this mighht be my liberal university education permeating and clouding the “truth”, you know that econ and global studies degree twisting my poor little mind, ha. essentially climate change deniers are not accepting science from people who educate themselves, live and die researching this stuff, and most critics have no real scientific basis aside from bs talking points. googling doesn’t often get you deeper scientific explanations as presented in research studies, surveys and actual scientific knowledge of these things. i will say this global warming is a joke, as its an oversimplification of local trends and not reflective of large scale asymmetry within an otherwise relatively balanced system. climate change in that we are throwing of balance in a delicate biosphere and atmosphere is very, very real.

  11. I have been reading for 65 years and have read some stupid articles, but this one has to be one of the most ridiculous. In addition to completely ignoring the valid point Lorne Dressler makes below; there are some quotes that are off the Richter scale for stupidity.
    Adam Gopnik says: “The right to be cold is as much a right as any other—which almost
    sounds absurd when you first hear it, but it makes perfect sense. Warmer
    winters are a tragedy, a catastrophe.”
    You’re wrong Adam. It doesn’t sound just sound absurd. It may in fact be the most utterly inane comment I have ever read in my life.
    And this from Cathy Gulli; “Without this defining season to set us apart, to demonstrate how tough
    and determined we are as a people—to hang our flag on, so to speak—what
    does it mean to be Canadian?”
     Well take off eh? I always thought it had something to do with the Canada Health Act.
    I have subscribed to MacLean’s on and off for 50 years. I just got back on. Now I remember why I got off.

  12. Fairly sure you meant taffy not toffee served on ice in the first paragraph.

  13. i We need not worry about our Canadian winters not returning, instead we should worry about the unscientific, overheated Alarmist reporting done in this cover page article of MACLEANS magazine. To use the Suzuki Foundation (an activist environmental organization) as a source for climate statistics is just simply irresponsible, misleading and dumb. According to Hadcrut (UAH) one of the worlds leading meteorological information sources the global temperature has only increased about 7/10th of one degree Celsius in the last 100 years or about 30% less than that which was claimed in “ Winter Died” lol… Imagine even 1 degree being scary.? Furthermore this small amount of warming could easily all be accounted for by the natural background noise of natural climate variability or the general natural warming which has been happening since the last ice age 17000 years ago. Don’t worry winter will not disappear in Canada soon and never will because of manmade. C02 emissions,simply because significant man made global warming is a hoax and costly Eco-swindle.

    •  I agree, Duck. My first thought when I saw this article was, that 66 years ago it was warmer.

      • Total surface planet heat (oceans plus land) has increased since 1950 (Murphy 2009 & Domingues 2008).  Some places would have been warmer 66 years ago (like the USA was much warmer than elsewhere in 1934), but the entire PLANET is much warmer than it has been in an exceedingly long time–see this graph from NASA, the Met, NOAA, and Japan’s MA:


          This kind of stuff confuses the issue. Most of us do not have an agenda. Some of us want to see CLEAR evidence. I doubt any of us ever will. Our lives are so short in comparison to the long climate cycles. Stop polluting, without question. AGW…not so sure!


    Don’t forget about air pollution , water pollution , acid rain , oceans of waste on the ocean , and melting glaciers . These are visible , measurable , and undeniable .
    Using benign terms like “greenhouse gasses” and “climate change” is akin to being complicit with Big Oil and Coal in denial propaganda..

    • About the glaciers; they’ve been melting for 15,000 years.

      •  And under some of them, they are finding remains of human settlements!

        • Now thatwould be a real climate catastophe if you had to get through a mile of ice to get home. Change I could live without!

    •  I can’t imagine that the average person really wants to pollute the planet. We certainly need to take a long hard look at our footprint and make some decisions. In some cases this will mean downsizing and cutting back on some luxuries. As the population grows, this becomes more and more important.

      However, I don’t believe that seeking real, unadulterated and unmassaged evidence, that we are causing the planet to warm unnaturally, makes me an accomplice of big oil and coal. The last one to boldly say ” if you’re not with us, then, you are with them”, I believe was G. Bush and we all know how that turned out. Cheers!

      P.S. I also don’t think “deniers” are the cult.

      • There’s nothing wrong with seeking answers. The only problem is that to the average person it can be difficult to distinguish good science from bad science. What would Carl Segan have been remembered for if he hadn’t come up with the global warming theory? Nothing…. that’s what…. His ego couldn’t allow for that. He was a very arrogant man and I think if the global warming theory was a square peg, round hole situation, he would have made it fit.

  15. I personally am not mourning the so called loss of winter.

    • Deep, long cold in winter is what keeps us safe from many diseases.  The pine beetle is loving Canadian trees, now that it can move north and not be killed off in December.  For us humans, when I started medical school the Infectious Disease profs warned us that in 10-20 years, due to global warming, we would start seeing problems we’d only read about before–for example Hantavirus, now spreading north in Canada and through west/central Europe, or Lyme disease, whose host (ticks) are altering their feeding patterns (making for a more virulent disease) and moving north…  It’s happened just like they warned us.
      If I wanted tropical diseases, I’d live in the States.

      • Really? Hantavirus and Lyme disease are pretty weak arguments. Neither are very prevalent in Canada. There have only been a few hundred confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Canada (EVER) and since 1989 there have only been 70 confirmed cases of Hantavirus. Bring on the warm weather, I’m willing to play those odds.

        And finally… Things never stay the same. Does anyone stop to think just how warm the earth was during the time of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago? They were not burning fossil fuels or producing tons of greenhouse gases. Yet there wasn’t a single bit of ice on the entire planet. It was a warm tropical place, not because something was wrong, it’s just the way the earth evolved. Things don’t stay the same, species come and go and the earth changes.

        Trying to preserve the earth in a static state is just as wrong as anything since that’s not how it’s meant to be.

  16. I personally am not mourning the so-called loss of winter.

  17. No winter?  I’ve been dreaming of that for all of my 59 Canadian years!!  

  18. It maybe ‘the winter that never was’ where you live, in the center of your universe.
    It was an OK winter here out west a little, albeit with a bit less snow than usual, along
    with some mild days that we usually have anyway thanks to Chinooks.

  19. How parochial we have become.  Anyone looked above the tree line into the True North in the last three years to see if the Arctic is warming? It has shown a remarkable ability to stay near the “norms” and the sea ice according to my observations from  seems to indicate that polar ice cover has stopped declining and has begun to thicken, and ice anomalies are near normal.  Also, our Vancouver Island mountain snowpack did not melt completely last year or the year before as has been the pattern for years past.  Should the sunspot anomaly continue as it has for the past three years, any predictions on a Maunder Minimum that will throw of all climate change predictions for at least another 20 years?  
    I believe the atmosphere is warming, but there are variations in solar radiation, volcanism, pollution, ocean currents, that make short term predictions extremely difficult.  The exceptions in this case do not make the rule.

  20. I must say I disagree with this article on two levels.

    1) Why do all the artsy fartsy types have to romanticize everything? The idea that Canadians love winter and it’s our identity is ludicrous. I’ve lived in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta. I don’t wake up on a morning when it’s -45C with a windchill of -65C and say to myself “This is what it means to be Canadian!!!! I love it! I’m proud of it!”. Anyone who does actually say that should be put in the loonie bin. If you think it’s just me, non of my friends look at winter through rose coloured glasses either. It’s a season that most of us hate and we spend most of our time hibernating waiting for spring, only venturing out and actually having fun during the brief warm periods. This winter however was a refreshing change for all of us. My friends and neighbours were all up beat this winter praising the warm weather making comments like “If every winter was like this I wouldn’t want to move away to a tropical country, I could actually enjoy winter”.

    2) I was hoping this article would not deteriorate into another “Global Warming” doomsday thread, but looking at most of the comments it has. I base all my opinions on fact and there has always been one thing that never sat well with me regarding the global warming theory. That being that the entire global warming theory is based on only about 1000 years worth of data. The earth goes through ice ages followed by warm (inter-glacial) periods which last about 100,000 and 12,000 years respectively. We’re currently at the end of one of those warming periods before the onset of another ice age (could be several hundred to several thousand years away, who knows). So how do we know how the end of the warm period is supposed to behave unless we look back to the last one in history which was over 100,000 years ago? The truth is we can’t know. Here’s a good article that talks about the future ice age and the flaws in the global warming theory. It’s a good read and pokes a lot of holes in the global warming theory.

    • Scientists tend to be pretty smart. (Remember, it was scientists who figured out those climate cycles you refer to. And paleoclimatology has more than 1000 years to look back on, by the way.) The reason scientists express concern now is because those cycles you refer to take hundreds to thousands of years to transition.  Nowhere in our planet’s history has a change in climate taken mere decades—until now. 

      This raises two concerns: a) the planet won’t be able to adapt as well as it has with previous changes in climate, and b) this observed change is due to reasons besides the orbital forcings which help explain those previous cycles.

      The obvious explanation for the change is that one of the other factors that affect climate, in this case increases in greenhouse gases. (Changes in solar output have been lower than average in the present and last sunspot cycle, so that’s not the answer.) Seven billion people spewing 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year is going to have an effect. 

      I think we should listen to what 98% of climate experts are telling us and not the 2% to try to find draws and usually demonstrate that they don’t properly understand climate change and the factors that play a part in it when they make their arguments. To say “We weren’t around 100,000 years ago so we don’t really know” is dangerous thinking. The evidence is there for those who are open-minded enough to look at it.

      • I tend to agree with Canuckman, at least he posted a link to an article backing up his post. I also don’t think it’s dangerous thinking to question the norm. Can you post some links to backup your claims that climatologists have actually studied data from 100000+ years ago that show that our transition periods are drastically shorter? I have never seen any such data. Every climate change article I’ve read only dealt with a few thousand years at most. So if you have proof that climatologists are using a longer period of data I’m sure we would all love to see it.

        • To Anonymous, thank you for your comments. I can indeed post a useful link which I suggest you review. It shows that we have climate data dating back more than 100,000+ years—in fact 740,000 years with an ice core sample taken from Antarctica. This article was published in Nature in 2004 so it’s not hot-off-the-presses, but since the responses posted suggest that many are unaware of this information, I post the proof you request below.

          And to be precise, I didn’t say that “questioning the norm” was dangerous thinking. My exact quote was: To say “We weren’t around 100,000 years ago so we don’t really know” is dangerous thinking. The obvious criticism I was making is that we shouldn’t reject what science teaches us—which includes the article I reference below—sim[ply because we weren’t around back then. Otherwise there are a lot of other generally accepted facts we have to reject as well: dinosaurs, formation of the solar system, the big bang theory, even the ancient ice ages which are being referred to by those who are sceptical of the role we humans play in present climate change.I believe you’ll find this article will address your concerns about the lack of data beyond a few thousand years.

          • That article in Nature was a very good read. It’s nice to know that the data is potentially there to analyze now. The only disappointing thing was this last portion of the article:

            ——————————– Begin Paste —————————-
            A priority for further investigations will be completing the gas records
            from air trapped in the Dome C ice. Given the complete record, it may
            be possible to detect an overall decline in greenhouse gases that might
            help to account for the long-term deterioration of global climate.
            Equally important is the question of whether the earlier warm intervals
            were associated with lower greenhouse-gas concentrations than have been
            achieved within the past few cycles. Such evidence will help us to find
            out whether the accentuated warmth of peak interglacial intervals within
            the 100K world was associated with ‘elevated’ atmospheric
            greenhouse-gas levels that have been increasingly surpassed in the
            post-industrial era.
            ———————————– End Paste —————————-

            So they clearly have not yet analyzed the greenhouse gas levels for the glacial / inter-glacial periods for that large ice core sample.

            The dinosaurs existed because we’ve dug up their fossils, that is fact. Whether they were green with scales, that’s open to more interpretation.

            Until they do the gas analysis of the core samples and know what greenhouse gas levels were during previous cycles they cannot draw a concrete direct correlation to global warming and greenhouse gas levels.

            I would be more accepting of the global warming theory if it was presented as: “This is the best projection of what we believe will happen”.

            Once they analyze the ice core and have the gas levels, only then can they present the global warming theory with 100% certainty because they can say: “Look, CO2 levels were not this high at this point during the last inter-glacial period, or the one before that etc… So the only explanation for the abnormally high CO2 levels during this cycle is human industry”.

            Until then, it’s a best educated guess, not 100% fact. Presenting it as though there’s no missing data is misleading and is quite frankly bad science.

            As an example, the big bang theory has evolved and changed over time. I specifically remember aspects such as the age of the universe changing as the precision of scientific instruments improve. Dark mater exists, but how much of it composes the universe is always open to debate.

            There is no doubt that our CO2 emissions will have some type of effect on climate. But until the missing data is filled in, we can’t speculate on the severity or degree.

          • Since the article I referenced was published in 2004, it would be reasonable to assume that those analyses have been completed. Here are a few articles below referencing the data from those analyses, showing what the CO2 levels were during the glacial and interglacial periods, and how stable they were. I agree that doesn’t mean every last piece of the puzzle is in place, and I also agree that the severity or degree of the problem is open to debate. I don’t believe too many climate scientists are presenting it as though there are no missing data—nor am I—but science always has holes. The beauty of finding new pieces of evidence is that they either help solidify, refine, or refute the theories.

            I guess what it boils down to is this: is there enough scientific fact to suggest that our human activities such as combustion of greenhouse gases, deforestation and agriculture are pushing our emissions to levels not seen in hundreds of thousands of years, and are those increased levels playing a part in the observed climate changes we’re observing? The vast majority of climate scientists believe the answer is yes to both of those questions, despite some incomplete evidence. I’m of the mind that there’s enough information to encourage us to start trying to tackle this problem and do what we can as a species to cut our emissions down. 

            The academic arguments surrounding this topic are certainly fun to discuss and intellectually challenging; but if in the generations to come our planet is facing a real climate crisis, I hope it won’t be because people weren’t ready to make a change because some “missing data” hadn’t filled in every last hole. I believe to wait until then will be far too late.


      • I would be inclined to take Mr. Dibble’s comments with a grain of salt. A bit of Internet research reveals that he is the author of “Comprehending the Climate Crisis”, a book about global warming. Your book, like most global warming data, fails to look at any long term data as the only mention of the word Ice Age comes in the “little Ice Age” a few hundred years ago and not the overall cycle which takes 100000+ years. Your book talks about ice core samples but fails to mention the period of  time that was examined within these ice core samples. The only portion of your book that I could find in the brief skim I did of it that mentions any time frame was that temperatures remained constant for the last millennium until the last 150 years.

        Not to speak for anyone else, but I think everyone agrees that polluting the planet is bad. No one is going to argue that. But saying that the current climate change is a direct result of our emissions without having data from 100000+ years ago to prove there is a significant deviation between the end of our current inter-glacial period and the end of the last inter-glacial period 100000+ years ago is not good science. If you don’t make a comparison between the same periods of a cycle, you can’t draw conclusions with any certainty.

        BTW Canuckman, very interesting article.

        • To TheShadow, I do appreciate your comments. Any engagement on this topic is welcomed. And you are indeed correct in that I’ve written a book on the subject of global warming. Other than providing an image of the book’s cover for my avatar, I’ve done my best not to refer to it unnecessarily when making my comments so that it doesn’t appear that I am simply trying to promote it. 

          But I’m not sure that being an author means my comments should be taken with a grain of salt. (As a cardiologist, I tend to discourage dietary salt!) My comments are no more salt-worthy than anyone else’s. In fact, often authors on subjects are given perhaps at least a modicum of credit for having delved into the subject a little more than the average person who posts comments on the internet.My book is intended to educate the general public without getting into exhaustive levels of science to prevent intimidating people away from learning about this important issue. I specifically avoid the level of research you’re referring to. Since you ask, here’s a link to an important article published back in 2004 in Nature, a highly-respected scientific journal. It shows how we have climate data dating back 740,000 years from an ice core sample taken from Antarctica. Since my book was intended to give people a working knowledge on topics like this without trying to turn them into paleoclimatologists, I didn’t go into this level of detail in the book, but I’m happy to show you that it exists.

  21. In response to Brad Dibble’s most recent reply to me (we’ve replied to each other too many times and the reply button disappeared.), I see what you mean about CO2 levels, but I’m not totally convinced how devastating the change will be. Previous time periods (for example, during the era of the dinosaurs) saw levels of of CO2 at 1800 ppmv or even 4400 ppmv, many many times higher than anything today.

    Let me make a very clear distinction again. I’m against pollution, there are many contaminants in the combustion of fossil fuels. But I’m not sold on the theory that elevated CO2 will devastate the planet.

    In the past, it probably took CO2 levels much longer to change and that faster change may cause some species difficulties in adapting, but as for the planet itself, it has seen much higher concentrations and has done just fine.

    I recycle, have compact fluorescent bulbs in my house, a composter in my back yard. I try to do my part because I believe it’s bad to pollute the planet with mercury, lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), etc…, etc… . I subscribe more to “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” than I do to the “CO2 will bring about the end of the world” theories.

    I wish I could be around in 5000 to 10000 years from now to see how the world’s views have changed. My guess is at that time in the future they’ll be trying to figure out ways to warm the planet to keep the ice age from killing off 98% of the world’s population :)   .

    • I truly appreciate your comments and I love dialogue like this. I believe both participants benefit from the exchange. (I certainly am.)

      I can’t say I disagree with your comments at this point, and I’m pleased to see you’re environmentally conscientious. It’s true that it’s difficult to predict how bad things will get, because our planet has ever faced this precise situation before so we don’t even have indirect evidence as to how it will adapt and what we can anticipate. I’d love it if you were more correct than me, because it means that future generations will fare better than I’m worried about. For their sake, I certainly hope so.

      One further comment: I agree that the planet will adapt no matter what we do to it, and it will be just fine as it has been for billions of years. I think it’s the species living on the planet that are not going to do so well, most importantly us for obvious selfish reasons. Any instability seems to put us on a tailspin—recent economic crises being a good example—and if coastal flooding and increased storms start hitting us hard with need for evacuations / reparations / and the economic devastation associated with such catastrophes, we won’t cope so well. If we were around to experience some of the drastic climate changes in Earth’s past history, I expect we would have suffered quite dramatically as a species then too. The Earth does fine but we don’t.

      The big difference in this case is that all previous changes were totally natural (orbital forcings, Milankovich cycles, etc…) but in this particular case I believe much of it is our own fault, and something upon which we can exert at least some control if we choose to. The real question is whether we’ll do that or not.

      To avoid filling up the Macleans website with our dialogue any further, feel free to contact me by email if you’d like to continue a conversation. I’ve enjoyed our discussion, and it’s helped enhance my understating further. Since you found my book online, I expect it won’t be hard for you to find me. If you’re on Facebook, you can access me from my avatar. Otherwise my websites have easy ways to contact me.

  22. Anyone wonder why EC use 65 years? Think about it. That takes you back to 1947. It conveniently avoids the 30’s and previous temperate times. A lot of things can be made to look the way you want buy picking appropriate starting and ending points to make your case. Canada winters may be warming but the world hasn’t warmed for 16 years. What does that mean?