Snowstorms in Spring: Explaining...

Snowstorms in Spring: Explaining Climate Extremes

by Sarah Leung
Jobs People Do | JobsPeopleDo.com

Canadians stereotypically live in snow all year. While not year round, 65 per cent of Canada experiences snowfall for more than half a year. Canadians often live through strong winters. With temperatures rising due to climate change, one might expect this pattern to stop. Yet, large, freezing snowstorms still happen in many parts of Canada even into spring.

Past Snow Trends in Canada

According to a 2019 CBC/Radio Canada analysis, Canada continuously receives less snow in comparison to past records. Less snow falls and less snow remains on the ground. Between 1955-1975, Montreal received snowpacks, layers of packed snow, of approximately 60 centimetres. Between 1991-2011, this statistic halved. Snow kept sidewalks cooler by reflecting sunlight, but low snow amounts lead to more heat; this all made snow melt faster.

Climate Change and Weather Systems

If Canada receives less snow, why does the country still experience large snowstorms? Although the term “global warming” sounds interchangeable with “climate change,” this isn’t always the case. Despite increasing temperatures, snowstorms still impact on Canadian communities. In fact, climate change makes extremes in weather more frequent and more powerful: summers become hotter, and winters become colder.

Jet Stream
Climate change influences the behaviour of the jet stream, a collection of winds that carry weather with it, causing these stronger extremes. The jet stream moves east-to-west, with speeds sometimes over 400 kilometres per hour. The jet stream now moves slower than it used to, making weather effects stay for longer. A blocking pattern draws out these longer, more intense periods of weather.

Arctic Polar Vortex
The Arctic polar vortex is a group of winds that move west-to-east above the North Pole. When warmer winds disrupt the vortex, it moves itself to different areas. The Arctic polar vortex moves to lower areas, splits, or stretches, covering a larger area than usual. While scientists continue to search for a clear trend, research shows a strong polar vortex occurs when undisturbed.

El Nino and La Niña

El Niño and La Niña, Spanish for and “little boy” and “little girl” respectively, cause alternating warmth and cold in water currents. El Niño, which occurs every 2-7 years, helps temperatures warm up by bringing warm water towards South America. La Niña, with occurs every 4-5 years, replaces the warm water brought by El Nino with cold water. Making winters unusually colder than normal, 2023 marks the “third La Niña winter in a row.” Officials say that despite La Niña periods, the world continues to break warming records.

Climate Change Ahead

Engage Ottawa predicts the National Capital Region will receive 10 per cent less snowfall by 2030. They also project that by 2050, that number will double to 20 per cent. While snowfall will decrease, rain will rise. Alongside more changes of freezing rain, rain may increase by 15 per cent in the 2080s. Freezing rain causes power outages and creates slippery streets and roads. Canadians should keep their winter coats and boots out.

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