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Warm spring expected in Maritimes following warmest winter on record in Canada

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Wednesday morning marks the official start of spring in the Maritimes, but if you didn’t know any better, you would think winter has been over for a while.

There hasn’t been any significant snow seen in Saint John, N.B., for weeks. Lily Lake at Rockwood Park is one of the best outdoor skating spots in the area, but this season lacing up the skates wasn’t an option more often then it was.

“To me it was almost a lost season,” says David Philips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, on the winter. “I mean, we’re known for our winters. We are the second coldest country in the world, the snowiest country in the world, and the snow, ice and cold is who we are.”

Phillips says this past winter was the warmest ever recorded on Prince Edward Island, the second warmest in New Brunswick, and the third warmest on record in Nova Scotia.

The country as a whole is coming off its warmest winter on record dating back to 1948. Over a three-month period from December to February, Canada was 5.2 C warmer than average, according to Phillips. That mark breaks the previous record set in 2009-2010 by 1.1 degree.

“I get excited about breaking a record by a tenth of a degree,” admits Phillips. “To have something broken in this huge country of Canada by so much was really quite remarkable.”

Phillips says winter is the one season that has seen a true change over the last few decades. There are a number of factors driving the record winter warmth in the region including El Niño, climate change effects, and record breaking temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.

The lack of a winter in this region cancelled the World Pond Hockey Championships in Plaster Rock, N.B., ski hills struggled to keep up with melting snow amid unseasonal rain, and even fish huts went through the ice at the Renforth Wharf in Rothesay, N.B., following a rapid melt.

Brad Mann is the president of Snowmobile New Brunswick and says the limited snow this winter cut the sledding season short by four-to-five weeks.

“It would have really affected the motels a lot,” Mann notes. “Restaurants, gas stations, all these utilities that people use when they are in the area.”

He says the season wasn’t a total loss. Mann says riders still got nearly two months of good riding on the trails, which would not have been possible without the work of volunteers.

“They were out day and night grooming making the best of what we had,” credits Mann. “We are a volunteer organization and without our volunteers it would be hard to operate. Especially with a short winter like this, I give all the credit to the volunteers out there keeping the trails up and grooming. It is thanks to them we did have some sort of season.”

The winter wasn’t without its wicked weather events. A massive snowstorm in early February hammered parts of P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, with Cape Breton getting the bulk of the load.

CTV Atlantic chief meteorologist Kalin Mitchell says during that storm parts of Sydney recorded 150 centimetres of snow. For many parts of the province the snowfall seen in February was unprecedented.

“At Halifax Stanfield International Airport they actually had their snowiest February on record,” Mitchell says. “At the Sydney Airport it was the third snowiest February on record, and there were of course daily snowfall records set.”

While there were records in Nova Scotia, Mitchell says the script was almost completely switched for parts of New Brunswick.

“There were locations from the north to the south of that province, including by Caraquet in the northeast of New Brunswick and Saint John around the Bay of Fundy coastline that actually finished in their top five of least snowy Februarys ever,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell makes note of massive rainfalls that impacted the province later in the month, pointing to the flooding situation in Sussex where 160 millimetres of rain were recorded in just one night.

Phillips says the best weather would be normal weather, with hot summers and cold winters. Its wishful thinking, saying most times Maritimers are either seeing too much weather or not enough.

“Mother Nature owns the trump cards and she always wins out,” Phillips says. “Unless we learn to keep abreast of the kind of changes we have seen in our climate, we are going to have more impactful and more billion-dollar disasters in Canada and it’s not going to be just that one-in-100 year storm, it could become more annually.”

Phillips also urges caution to those in the region eager to get into full spring mode. He says it isn’t uncommon for 15-to-20 per cent of the region’s annual snowfall to happen after the season changes over. He says it would be good practice to keep the snow tires on the vehicles a little longer, and not put the shovels in the back of the shed just yet. 

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