It’s not easy for Canadians to muster sympathy when Vancouverites complain about the snow, on those rare occasions when the city gets blanketed in the white stuff. While many parts of the country are accustomed to the yearly deep freeze, the most challenging winter weather for those in B.C.’s lower mainland in recent memory came in 2010, when Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics; it was so warm, the organizing committee had to airlift in snow via helicopter.
“By this time of year, we Canadians are usually hearing flower counts from British Columbia,” says David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada.
Which helps explain the feeling of schadenfreude being experienced by so many across the country right now, as images emerge of snow-covered palm trees and careening busses. But just how bad is Vancouver’s winter this year? You might be surprised.
As of Wednesday morning, Vancouver has had 58.4 cm of snow this winter season—all of it coming in December and February. That’s more snow than has fallen on Toronto, Regina and Saskatoon. And if a major snowstorm that’s expected to hit B.C. on Wednesday is as bad as weather watchers expect, Vancouver’s accumulated snowfall may even surpass that of Edmonton.
“Keep in mind, we haven’t finished counting all the snow flakes in Vancouver,” Phillips adds. “Not to scare the bejeezus out of people in Vancouver, but in the forecast for the rest of the winter, the only area showing colder than normal temperatures in the lower part of Canada is coastal B.C.”
So how is B.C. weathering the storms so far? For a city unaccustomed to snow, the slippery conditions have led to a rash of vehicles accidents and scenes of busses and cars sliding down hills. But Vancouverites have also faced the snow storms with humour. A tongue-in-cheek ad for a snow fort for rent popped up on Craigslist: $1,800 a month. (“Open floor plan, fully air conditioned with built-in wine cooler,” the joke ad reads for the four sq. ft. suite.) Meanwhile in Saanich on Vancouver Island, a local farmer, fed up with delays in getting his road cleared, took matters into his own hands—clearing snow from behind the wheel of a Zamboni until police pulled him over.
The total snowfall for the 2016/17 winter season year isn’t a record breaker—yet—but it is certainly an anomaly. In only six years out of last 35 did winter-to-date snowfall in Vancouver exceed what’s fallen this year. If Vancouver adds just another 10 cm this winter, it will have been the fifth snowiest year since the last 1970s.
Helping set Vancouver apart is the fact that Toronto, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Regina have all experienced snowfall that’s below normal. “We’re not necessarily chortling or smiling, but there’s clearly nobody feeling sorry for those people in lotus land,” Phillips says. “I think there is a lot of glee across the country.”