Snow-bound by the weather gods

 

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“Across Prince Edward Island, all public and private school systems, along with colleges and universities, shut down in the midst of a howling snowstorm,” The Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar helpfully reports. 

Hello, Canadian spring. You seem awfully familiar to me. Have you, by any chance, met Canadian winter? Oh yes, Canadian winter and I go way back. 

Friends of mine from England are visiting. Months ago, when they began planning for this trip – which would begin in Halifax, wend through the Maritimes en route to central Canada and points west of the American prairies – they asked me what sort of outerwear would be suitable for the Maritimes at the end of March.

I said something like, “Well, that sort of depends on the year, but you can be pretty safe with a sweater and sturdy raincoat, maybe some rubber boots.” 

Friends of mine from England are no longer speaking to me. Fortunately for what’s left of our relationship, they’re staying in a hotel. Besides, it’s not as if they can get out my front door any time soon. 

But, really, how was I supposed to know? The weather app on my iPhone is less than useless. Only four days ago, it seems, meteorologists were calmly predicting steadily improving, springlike weather. It was just possible to imagine the crocuses, narcissuses and tulips peaking up from the good earth. And then. . .

“Across a large swath of Atlantic Canada, people who ventured outside Wednesday felt the cold sting of a massive spring blizzard that brought much of the region to a standstill,” The National Post reported on Wednesday. “Most schools and government offices were closed in the Maritimes, flights were cancelled and traffic along some of the busiest streets and highways was virtually non-existent amid knee-high drifts. Even the Confederation Bridge to P.E.I. was temporarily closed as powerful gusts howled across the Northumberland Strait.”

Isn’t it marvelous that when the central Canadian media report on something as verifiable and straightforward a storm they still manage to get the facts about our region wrong? Note to NP editors: It doesn’t stake Snowmaggedon 2014 to close the Confederation Bridge; sometimes a light breeze and a dash of sea fog will do the trick.

But I digress.

The experts are divided on what all of this actually means. Of course, that’s what experts do; they become divided at the drop of mukluk. 

Some think the unusually cold, unusually long and unusually snowy winter this year is proof positive of global warming’s effect on the climate (extreme events and seasons – a product of increasing amounts of energy in the atmosphere – are what the models predict). “Scientists call it Santa’s revenge,” The Globe and Mail reported in February. “It’s the theory that persistent weather patterns at the mid-latitudes – like this winter’s tediously long-lasting polar vortex or California’s severe drought – are a direct consequence of climate change heating up the Arctic.”

Others think the persistently inclement weather doesn’t mean a thing. Or, at least, not yet. According to to Scientific American piece in 2009, “‘You can’t tell much about the climate or where it’s headed by focusing on a particularly frigid day, or season, or year, even,’ writes Eoin O’Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor. ‘It’s all in the long-term trends,’ concurs Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.”

Still others have thrown up their hands, turned off their cell phones and headed south for the remainder of whatever season we in the Great White North have decided to call this.  

In fact, the only point on which everyone in the business of forecasting the weather seems to agree is that they all got it horribly, embarrassingly wrong. (Everyone, that is, except the decidedly unscientific Farmer’s Almanac).

“Not one of our better forecasts,” Mike Halpert, the acting director of the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, told Bloomberg Businessweek last month. 

The piece continues: “The center grades itself on what it calls the Heidke skill score, which ranges from 100 (perfection) to -50 (monkeys throwing darts would have done better). October’s forecast for the three-month period of November through January came in at -22.”

On the other hand, unpredictable weather generates its own, comforting precedents. 

Here’s the rest of that Weather Trivia Calendar report: “Federal and provincial offices also closed, including Canada Post mail delivery, and seniors couldn’t get Meals on Wheels.”

In fact, that was March 27, exactly two years ago. 

Funny how it seems like only yesterday.

 

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