Category Archives: Weather

Spooky action at a distance


At this time of the year, when the worm moon greets dawn’s croaking grackles, I find myself unable to quit my weather app, which I check obsessively.

A decade ago, friends of mine from England asked what sort of outerwear would be suitable for our Canadian Maritime climate in the middle of May. I said something like, “Don’t worry your pretty little Brit heads. We’re well past the worst of Mother Nature’s seasonal tantrums.”

They arrived, happy and shiny and right on schedule, at Stanfield International Airport. Two days later, 40 centimetres of snow dropped.

Friends of mine from England are no longer speaking to me.

But, then, how was any of this my fault?

I had a weather app, for God’s sake.

“You know I actually work for a living,” a tech-savvy Meteorologist acquaintance of mine protested over the phone the other day. He was alluding to the fact that I am a lowly freelancer who prefers to scribble in his “leisure suit” between bouts of weather-induced paranoia.

“Sure, sure,” I spluttered, “but what do you make of these forecasts? How do you know what is or isn’t going to happen in my backyard 14 days from now?”

One word, he said: “Algorithms . . .The less snow that falls in any given winter, the more snow gets computer modelled and pushed to the end of the year. It’s math, boy, simple math.”

So, all of this is accurate, yes?

“No,” he sighed. “Well, sometimes.”

That, I declared, “is not fair.”

No, it’s not, he sighed. “Neither is the fact that you’re an idiot.”

Be that as it may, in the Great While North – where Spring often meets Winter for a robust afternoon of ice dancing on some cosmic frozen pond of their mutual liking – I am not alone in thinking that I have a right to understand, with a smartphone in hand, the shape of all the universe’s spooky actions at a distance.

Some years ago, under crisp and brilliantly clear late-April skies, I peeled out of the driveway of my Guysborough County farmhouse to commence the first leg of a business trip to Halifax. The coast was clear. The CBC said so.

Twenty kilometres up the highway, a snow squall forced me off the road. When it was over, I limped back to the shore through 12 centimetres of treacherous, rapidly melting muck, listening to the public broadcaster predict, “Nova Scotia will be absolutely beautiful today.”

Of course, the weather – like hockey – is one of those glorious preoccupations Canadians almost never get right. A Farmer’s Almanac item recently observed: “Before there were apps for your phone, Doppler radar or the National Weather Service, people looked to the signs of nature to prepare for what’s to come.”

The venerable source was talking about the American Midwest, but the folklore could easily apply to the Canadian East Coast: “Heavy and numerous fogs; racoons with bright bands; woodpeckers sharing trees; thick hair on the nape of cows’ necks; and pigs gathering sticks.”

On the other hand, according to my limited research, here are some sure signs that spring has sprung: Heavy and numerous fogs; racoons with bright bands; woodpeckers sharing trees; thick hair on the nape of cows’ necks; and pigs gathering sticks.

And what about that balefully glaring “worm moon” (also sometimes known as the “super moon” when it appears, as it did this year, on the vernal equinox). Scientists think it might make certain animals. . .uh. . .friskier than normal. Isn’t that also a sure sign of spring?

As for me, I continue to rely on my weather app. It tells me in its own inimitable, techno-spoken language about thick mists, critter fur, avian condo dwellers, and the porcine obsession with twigs – all that I may expect in the coming weeks.

Thank you, weather app.

Unless it snows.

Then, curse you weather app.

It’s funny how I never do this in the middle of summer.

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Has spring sprung early?

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

It has begun; that time of the year when Stockholm syndrome grips a goodly number Canadian citizens. The signs are evident and everywhere.

Faces change from warm and friendly to feverish and intensely cheerful. Backs bow, arms curl into chests, legs shift from side to side, heads bob up and down and to and fro. And then, as sure as Jack Frost is a minor demon with a major purchase on the souls of northern climes, the speaking in all-but-frozen tongues commences.

“Isn’t it great to see winter back once again? Why, I’m invigorated. I just can’t wait to pull out the old snow shoes, stay up till three o’clock in the morning shoveling ice from the intake valves of my natural gas furnace. I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this. . .Am I right, brother? No, really, am I right, am I right, am I right? Heeeeeee haaaaaaaw!”

To be clear, Stockholm syndrome is that condition which one source defines thusly: “It’s a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.”

It’s odd, perhaps, but to my knowledge, there’s no such thing as “San Jose syndrome” or “Florida Keys syndrome” or, heaven forbid, “Tahiti syndrome”. I guess the captives in those toasty, sunny locales are too busy sipping pina coladas to worry overmuch about the indignities they suffer at the warm hands of their captors’ beach-side massage therapists.

Poor saps. They know not what they’re missing in the “Arctic Riviera”: windburn, frostbite, couch-potatoitis, scrabble-mindlessness, cribbage-rot, and three-penny poker parlour games.

Up here in the Great White North, we know how to throw down a kitchen party when the mercury dips below the freezing point of iridium.

Now, naturally, the weather auguries declare that this winter will be one of the mildest and wettest on record in Southeastern New Brunswick. That simply means we take our card games outside as we rake the leaves of autumn in January. Oh what fun can we imagine in that eventuality?

We shall build great columns of maple keys, where once spirals of ice might have stood.

We shall garnish our hats with dead flowers from the garden, where once frozen carrots might have graced the noses of our snowmen in the sub-zero.

Under these conditions (say around March 14), the Stockholm syndrome will veer observably sideways.

“Isn’t it great to see spring back once again and so early this year? Why, I’m invigorated. I just can’t wait to pull out the old roots, stay up till three o’clock in the morning shoveling dirt into the new planting beds. I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this. . .Am I right, brother? No, really, am I right, am I right, am I right? Heeeeeee haaaaaaaw!”

Over the past ten years, New Brunswick has endured federal faces that were both warm and friendly, both feverish and intensely cheerful. In the process, it has suffered the fools of office it elected to Ottawa.

Now, there are new gardeners in town, just in time for winter’s blanket of moody musing and discontent to fall. Now, though, there are new promises to keep, new vistas to explore.

Yes, it is great to see that political spring has sprung in Canada again after such a long political ice age of bleak despair for many.

Still, let’s remember in this new, ostensibly enlightened era that we, the people, are the captors of our own democracy; not the captives.

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Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. . .it’s winter out there


In late November of last year, when the mercury in Moncton peaked at 8 degrees (C), the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued this report: “The epic lake effect event will be remembered as one of the most significant winter events in Buffalo’s snowy history. 

“Over five feet of snow fell over areas just east of (that city), with mere inches a few miles away to the north. There were 13 fatalities with this storm, hundreds of major roof collapses and structural failures, thousands of stranded motorists, and scattered food and gas shortages due to impassable roads. 

“Numerous trees also gave way due to the weight of the snow, causing isolated power outages. While this storm was impressive on its own, a second lake effect event on Nov. 19-20 dropped another one-to-four feet of snow over nearly the same area and compounded rescue and recovery efforts. 

“Storm totals from the two (systems) peaked at nearly seven feet, with many areas buried under three-to-four feet of dense snowpack by the end of the event.”

All of which is to say: Thank the Almighty New Brunswick is not yet upstate New York, where nordic skis and snow shoes will most certainly influence Manhattan’s annual Fashion Week this spring (assuming, of course, there is a spring).

I thought I made myself perfectly clear to the universe a few weeks ago when I wrote about a warm, rainy, green Christmas and how eminently copacetic I was about that fine result.

Now, daily, I contend with snowmotion alerts from my worthy colleagues at this newspaper and others, such as this one, yesterday, from intrepid reporter Eric Lewis:

“Who is winning in New Brunswick’s Great Snow War of 2015? Winning or losing depends on your perspective, of course. Do you win if you have the most snow or the least? That’s up to each individual, but there’s no shortage of frustration in the province after four storms have blasted the province over the last nine days. . .And it’s not over yet. ‘We continue to see a path of storms coming up and down the East Coast of the United States and heading into the Maritimes,’ AccuWeather meteorologist Mark Paquette told the Times & Transcript Tuesday morning. ‘And there’s nothing that’s going to make this pattern change.’”

Oh marvellous. That’s just fine.

Am I the only sap in this now not ironically named Great White North who finds the glinting, gleeful reports of weather forecasters, at this time of the year, profoundly irritating?

“Gosh, Mike, do you know what’s hitting the Maritimes this week. . .again?”

“Why, no Darlene, dooooo tell.”

“Well, Mike, you better get your Canada Goose parka on and your no-name- brand mukluks velcroed up, because it’s gonna be messy.”

“Gee, Darlene, how messy is it gonna get?”

“Well, Mike, as near as we can tell, 400 centimeters of the white stuff is gonna get dumped on Moncton, New Brunswick, within 36 hours of constant, howling, door-busting, roof-collapsing precip.

“Ha, ha. . .that’s great, Darlene. . .So what should people do?
“Oh. . .I don’t know. . .maybe buy a shovel or kiss their arses goodbye?”

“Ha, ha. . .you’re such a caution, Darlene.”

“See you next week, Mike. . .I’ll be reporting on rope swings from sunny Bermuda. . .Now that’s something you don’t see every day.”

As it happens, over the past week, I’ve been frantically googling Bermuda almost every day. Here’s what the official weather website imparts:

“Cooler conditions and decreasing winds into Wednesday as high pressure builds in from the northwest. Another frontal boundary begins to move into the area late Thursday, bringing showers and strong winds, with some gusts near gale force early Friday.”

Except, of course, the highs there are 21 (C), and the lows are 13 (C).

Our higher temperatures are -21 (C). And the lows here are near absolute zero (on Pluto). And still, somehow, it snows.

Again, though, it could be worse.

At least, we’re not upstate New York.

Trust me, the only thing worse than Buffalo in the wintertime is. . .well, Buffalo in the summertime, or, come to think of it, any time.


An immigrant’s guide to the Great White North


Dear newcomer, from a warm part of the world, rest assured that Canada is a safe and happy place. Our national statistics agency reliably assures us that we boast among the lowest crime rates in the G20, the highest “happiness” index in the developed world, and the greatest per capita consumption of mindless TV shows and comfort food in the modern era.

Now, about our annual deep freeze.

No doubt you caught a piece the other day in this country’s self-anointed national organ of news and popular opinion. The headline, if I’m not mistaken, was: “Teaching Immigrants to endure – even embrace – Canadian winters.”

The front-page Globe and Mail article by Ingrid Peritz went a little something like this: “Pauline Perrotte stood before her class and asked her pupils, all newcomers to Canada, what kinds of rumours they’d heard about Canadian winters.”

It should be said, of course, the Ms. Perrotte is an expat from the south of France who alighted on these frigid shores barely a year ago to teach immigrants how to cope with the Great White North’s signature season. “People hear about blizzards and ice storms, and they start worrying about their families and children,” she declared. “We try to reassure them, tell them that winter is a magnificent season and that adjusting to it is part of their integration.”

None of which stopped a woman from Iran, in her class, from fretting: “You need to wear eye glasses, because your eyes can freeze.”

Another emoted: “It’s as cold as a refrigerator.”

No, objected a fellow pupil from Mauritius, “It’s colder.”

As a seventh-generation Canadian who knows all about the weather of this northern-most reach of the “New World”, I’ll take each of these concerns in reverse order.

Mr. Mauritius, Canadian winters are certainly not colder than a refrigerator. They are colder than the vacuum of space that surrounds the robotic probe somebody just landed on a comet orbiting the sun the other day. And, my friend, darker. . .much darker.

Ms. Perrotte, winter here is not “a magnificent season.”

Indeed, despite what you’ve heard (or been propagandized to instruct), eight or nine months of the year, in which frozen rain, snow, sleet, ice pellets, and drenching slop fall for hours, days and, sometimes, weeks on end, cannot reasonably compare with. . .well, Cuba.

I like Cuba. In February, Cuba is a friend of mine. I imagine I’ll go there one day when my neighbour’s snow blower doesn’t blow a pin, or my back doesn’t prevent me from boarding a plane that’ll get delayed or cancelled thanks to. . .you guessed it. . .the Canadian winter.

As for the woman from Iran who thought glasses would protect her eyeballs from freezing, think again dearie. Frozen pins and cones in the thick of the white is practically a brand statement at Quebec City’s winter carnival (spectacles, notwithstanding).

Having dispelled the rumours and myths about our finest season, here’s a little more advice, anecdotal though it may be, to warm the cockles of your hearts in this black-side-of-the-moon season.

Never throw away your Halloween pumpkins. Simply repurpose them as creepy heads to top your several dozen snowmen. When spring arrives, sometime in July, pop them off, peel them down and cut them up. The soup is terrific. Trust me.

Likewise, never look a crappy mountain bike in the tires. For budget-savvy Canadians, these puppies are godsends. You can pick them up, for a song, at any police auction, ride the bejeezus out of them all winter long, save yourself a fortune in gas, and when that first breath of spring comes wafting in, abandon them in a Walmart parking lot where snow ploughs are sure to bury them under a small mountain of grey slush and ice. In due course, they will emerge, like rusty daffodils, to find their way to yet another police auction.

Hey, babies. . .in Canada, we’re all about the recycling.

The bottom line, newcomers, is that there is a way to survive the Canadian winter.

Tough out the cold and the dark, knowing that the warmth and the light is just a calendar flick or two away.

After all, the summers are our best two months of the year, especially if you’re fond of mosquitos.


If it’s flooding or frozen, it must be March


We don’t talk about it, not really, at any rate; for to talk about it would hex us forever.

Oh, sure, we chat discursively around the subject. We say things like, “Oh well, what are you going to do?” and “Geez, we weren’t expecting this” and “Maybe, it isn’t as bad as we think.”

No, it’s not the frightening situation in the Ukraine and the threat of reigniting the Cold War with Russia. It’s not the slightly less frightening situation in Ottawa and the threat of John Baird and/or Jason Kenney replacing the off-message (which means sensible and well-meaning) Jim Flaherty as finance minister just in time for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s next appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

It’s none of these or other legitimate, though contrived, concerns that has us trembling in our mukluks. It is, however, a bug-a-bear that’s distinctly, uniquely Canadian at this time of the year. It’s (gasp!) the weather.

As to this – to quote a phrase in a book I once loved to read when the snow was as high as an elephant’s arse – what in the blue-blazes and billions of blue blistering boiled and barbecued barnacles is going on around here? (Apologies to Captain Archibald Haddock of “Tintin” fame).

There, now: I’m talking about it. Bad luck be-damned. It’s March 6, and it’s time for an earnest intervention with Planet Earth. I’ll start. Dear Gaia, are you kidding me?

I mean, I get that you’re peeved about all the junk we’ve been pouring into the atmosphere. But that’s supposed to warm things up a might. What’s with the walk-in freezer two weeks before the official start of spring?

Still, to a weather junkie, it’s all perfectly explicable.

“The latest public enemy No. 1 comes complete with an ominous, super-villain name and a tendency to waver drunkenly around the Northern Hemisphere, leaking great, vast gasps of frigid Arctic air into normally more temperate latitudes,” writes Larry O’Hanlon in Discovery magazine’s online edition. He is, of course, referring to the polar vortex which, he acknowledges has “always been there, but most of the time it minds its own business and serves as a wall of wind to hold wintry Arctic air where it belongs.”

Not this winter. This winter it has been, quite literally, all over the map. Hence the pronounced and prolonged cold. There’s even some suggestion that the active vortex is linked to – if not a direct result of – global warming.

“It may well be that global warming could be making the occasional bout of extreme cold weather in the U.S. (and Canada) even more likely,” Bryan Walsh writes in Time Magazine’s online edition. “Usually the fast winds in the vortex – which can top 100 mph (161 k/h) – keep that cold air locked up in the Arctic. But when the winds weaken, the vortex can begin to wobble like a drunk on his fourth martini, and the Arctic air can escape and spill southward, bringing Arctic weather with it.”

Essentially, warmer than normal air sinking from the stratosphere upsets the vortex’s flow and sends it madly off in all directions.

Good science is always a palliative for high anxiety, but history also provides a much-needed cold comfort. My trusty Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar 2014 proves that, for we citizens of the Great White North, March truly is, and always has been, the cruelest month.

March 5, 1900: “Snows whipped into monstrous drifts blocked trains near Brantford, ON. Two young passengers volunteered to get food at a nearby town. When they returned the hungry crowd began to devour everything in sight. After the meal, cigars were indulged and in and around 12 o’clock all retired to any spot providing comfort. Two men froze their ears walking 1 kilometer from one express train to another.”

Then, of course, only last year on March 20, the first day of spring, a storm “dumped 19 cm of snow on Moncton, NB, and nearly 40 cm of snow in Fredericton. The storm closed schools, caused power outage, and shut down offices.”

All of which confirms, if nothing else, that if it seems that the weather can’t get any weirder, it only seems that way.

The bottom line: There’s no use in complaining. Indeed, it’s best not to talk at all. With these temperatures, why waste energy?

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Go ahead, blame it on the weather

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Let us just finally admit, with one pitiful sigh, that we are, in fact, responsible for the walk-in freezers we’ve installed in towns and cities across much of the country.

We’ve certainly had better starts: milder temperatures, sunnier skies and drier conditions to mark the new year. We’ve even had lights that stayed on and airports that remained open.

But all that was before the dreaded polar vortex debuted in our lives and on the late-night TV comedy circuit of 2014.

“Good to have you with us folks – and by ‘with us’, I mean still living,” funnyman Stephen Colbert quipped this week. “It was so cold on New Year’s Eve, that the ball went back up.”

Watch out, he warned, for the “polar vortex” and its “thunder snow. . .Frankly, I’m not sure that those are weather terms, or finishing moves from ‘Mortal Kombat’.” When the thaw begins, he cautioned, the forecast calls for “Partly cloudpocalypse with a 20 per cent chance of rain-a-geddon.”

A somewhat more sober analysis appears on CBC’s website:

“The polar vortex refers to winds that whip around the polar ice cap, trapping Earth’s coldest temperatures there. Its deterioration with global warming, however, can send arctic weather south into areas as far away as the southern U.S. and Europe, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists. ‘When the polar vortex. . .breaks down, this allows cold air to spill south, affecting the eastern United States and other regions,’ says NOAA’s Dr. James Overland. ‘This can result in a warmer-than-average arctic region and colder temperatures that may include severe winter weather events on the North American and European continents.’”

It’s that phrase – “its deterioration with global warming” – that will stick in the craw of every climate change denier from Hibernia to Fort McMurray.

Nevertheless, according to a piece this week for Climate Central, “Such weather patterns, which can feature relatively mild conditions in the Arctic at the same time dangerously cold conditions exist in vast parts of the lower 48, may be tied to the rapid warming and loss of sea ice in the Arctic due, in part, to manmade climate change.

“The forecast high temperature in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Monday was in the 20s Fahrenheit – warmer than many locations in Georgia and Alabama. That fits in with the so-called ‘Arctic Paradox’ or ‘Warm Arctic”, Cold Continents’ pattern that researchers first identified several years ago. Such patterns bring comparatively mild conditions to the Arctic while places far to the south are thrown into a deep freeze.”

Of course, scientists have been predicting the intensification of traditional cold snaps in North America for at least a decade. In fact, in 2004, NASA had this to say in an article entitled, “A Chilling Possibility” posted to its website:

“Global warming could plunge North America and Western Europe into a deep freeze, possibly within only a few decades. That’s the paradoxical scenario gaining credibility among many climate scientists. The thawing of sea ice covering the Arctic could disturb or even halt large currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Without the vast heat that these ocean currents deliver – comparable to the power generation of a million nuclear power plants – Europe’s average temperature would likely drop 5 to 10°C (9 to 18°F), and parts of eastern North America would be chilled somewhat less. Such a dip in temperature would be similar to global average temperatures toward the end of the last ice age roughly 20,000 years ago.”

All of which bodes well for the bottom lines of those who manufacture the excellent Snow Goose line of outerwear. As for the rest of us. . .not so much.

Still, perhaps this is just the kick in the pants the Fraser Institute thinks we need as we set about dismantling governments and collecting the wood from their paneled offices for kindling. There’s nothing like an encroaching ice age to clarify the mind, gird the loins, and fortify the soul.

It’s even possible – if only just – that we’ll finally start taking responsibility for the various hardships we like to blame on everything and everyone except the person in the frozen mirror.

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