Fiery February UW weather station addresses the hottest February on record

Graphic by Sophie Lin

If you thought that this February seemed warmer than usual, you were not alone.  Weather experts have confirmed that parts of Canada and the United States have just experienced their warmest February on record, and Waterloo Region was no exception.

Frank Seglenieks, co-ordinator of the University of Waterloo weather station, noted that for Waterloo, it was “the warmest February ever.”

Located on the north campus beside Columbia Lake, the UW weather station first began recording weather data in February 1998.

According to Seglenieks, “The month started out pretty typical, but then starting on the 18th, the temperature shot up and we saw a crazy string of warm days that ended up making it the warmest February we have seen in the region in the just over 100 years of weather records in the region,” adding that “On the 22nd, the temperature went up to 15 C, which was the highest February temperature we have ever seen in the region.  However, that record didn’t last long as the next day the high was 15 C, establishing the new all-time February record.  In fact, the overall temperature for February would [normally] have been an average temperature for March.”

Seglenieks, who also updates the UW weather station’s website, wrote in his monthly weather summary: “The month ended with 12 days where the high temperature was over zero, including some days that were over 15 degrees above the average.  Overall the temperature was 4.4 degrees above average, which was almost half a degree more than the previous warmest February back in 1998. ”

Commenting on the precipitation anomaly, Seglenieks noted, “The February precipitation was above average…[but] with the warm temperatures, a lot of the precipitation came down as rain, resulting in us only getting about half the average snow for the month.”

Comparing this year’s mild winter to the one last year, Seglenieks said, “Last year’s winter was milder, but it was kind of opposite to this one in one way: last year December was really warm, and then January and February were just a bit warm whereas this year December was just a bit warm but both January and February were much warmer.”

When asked why winter 2017 in southern Ontario was so different from the “classic Canadian winter” that many weather experts were expecting, Seglenieks explained that “The reason for the mild winter was that the global weather patterns resulted in us getting more systems from the west [with] relatively mild air, instead of the cold air from the north,” adding that “The La Niña event wasn’t that strong this past winter, so I think there were other factors that influenced our weather more than it did.”

Dr. Barry Turner, a University of Waterloo graduate based in Montreal and an accredited consulting meteorologist with the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, explained “El Niño and La Niña refer to patterns in ocean temperatures and winds in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The pattern changes irregularly, often switching from one phase to the other over one to several years. Certain weather patterns that are more likely to fall into place during El Niño years can lead to warmer conditions during winter in Canada. A period of El Niño has just finished in 2016.” He added, “El Niño and La Niña are two extremes of a cycle, swinging back and forth from one to the other like a pendulum.  Last winter, that pendulum was high on the El Niño side, but was swinging back past the middle position in mid-2016.  We’re towards the La Niña side at present, but not as strongly as was expected.  So that one factor doesn’t really fit with our current very warm winter.  Of course, there are many factors that affect our weather as well as a good dose of unavoidable randomness.”

Dr. Doug Gillham, a meteorologist with The Weather Network, offered some additional insight into the reasons for the mild winter, noting “With just being a year removed [from] such a strong El Niño event, there is still a substantial amount of extra heat leftover [sic] in the atmosphere. Typically, when we have headed into El Niño, we were also coming out a stronger La Niña of longer duration. However, the recent La Niña was weak and rather short-lived and that has left us with a unique global ocean water temperature pattern heading into our next El Niño. In some regards we are still heading out of, and also heading into El Niño at the same time. This gives some contradictory signals in the long range global patterns.”