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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Back go reality: warm winter will give way to typical spring, Weather network

TORONTO - Arctic winds may have given way to balmy breezes across most of Canada this winter, but the Weather Network is predicting the country will spring back to reality in the coming months.

Temperatures in most provinces are expected to be right in line with seasonal norms over the next three months, with only British Columbia projected to feel some lingering chill.

The network's spring weather outlook is also calling for more variability in precipitation, both forecasting a soggy few months in Central Canada while raising the spectre of water shortages on the west coast.

Such contradictions are par for the course during a season with a reputation for volatility. After the sort of winter Canadians have just experienced, however, network meteorologist Chris Scott said a typical spring may seem jarring.

"The biggest story this year has been the warmth," Scott said in a telephone interview.

"When you look right from east to west, we've seen most major cities had a winter that ranks in the top 10 in terms of warmest on record."

A weather phenomenon known as the Arctic Oscillation saw the usually active jet stream stay relatively stationary over northern Canada, effectively blocking most of the cold air from flowing to the rest of the country over the past three months.

As a result, Scott said Regina enjoyed its third warmest winter since 1883, while Toronto basked in the sort of temperatures only seen once more since 1840.

B.C. alone was exempt from the nationwide thaw, Scott said, adding it will continue to buck the seasonal trend expected to emerge through March, April and may.

The province is expected to see temperatures linger below seasonal norms, joining the Yukon and Northwest Territories among areas not reaping the full benefits of spring.

Elsewhere in the country, Scott forecasted above average temperatures through March giving way to more typical conditions for the rest of the season. Only northwestern Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are on track for a warmer than usual spring, he said.

Even if temperatures follow their typical course, Scott said Canadians may not realize it.

"If you've already been mild, and then you're not going to get as mild relative to normal, it may not seem like spring is coming the same as it often does," he said.

While temperatures are expected to be fairly consistent, the precipitation forecast is much more varied.

Scott said most of Ontario and Quebec should brace for a soggier season than usual, while the Maritimes can look forward to precipitation levels within the average range.

It's a different story across the prairies and southern Alberta, he said, adding the forecast is calling for a dryer than usual season.

Lack of moisture could cause problems for the region's agriculture and increase the risk of summer forest fires, he cautioned.

"It's a little bit too soon to say that we're into a bad situation on either of those counts, but this is a big potential that we'll have to watch just because we've gone through a very dry stretch of weather," Scott said.

One thing weather-watchers can count on is the spring tradition of thwarting expectations.

Scott said the season defined by both winter air masses and warm-weather systems can be relied upon to provide a few surprises.

"It's a pretty great time to be in the weather business because there's always something to talk about."

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