Where Has the Snow Gone? Most Canadians Will Wake Up to a Green Christmas

REUTERS/Chris Reese
A skiff of snow covers the ground in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, December 11, 2023.

OTTAWA (Reuters) – All over Canada, a giant northern country known for its biting winters and drifts so deep they can swallow a car, people will wake up this Christmas with a simple question: where is the snow?

There is not much of it around.

From coast to coast, from north to south, tracts of land that should be frosty white are instead green and brown.

“I’ve been tracking weather for 55 years and I have never seen a kind of a winter like the first official day of winter, like we have right now,” said David Phillips, a veteran senior climatologist at the federal environment ministry.

“It doesn’t look like winter, it doesn’t feel like winter, and yet it is winter. And I think that to me is the shock,” he said by phone.

Around 75% of Canadians usually have a white Christmas, officially defined as two cm (0.8 inches) of snow on the ground, and the number now is near zero.

Winters are normally toughest in landlocked provinces like Alberta, where snow can easily sit on the ground for five months or more. But on Friday, the high temperature in the capital Edmonton was +7 Celsius (45 Fahrenheit), compared to -28 C (-18 Fahrenheit) last year.

Further east in the province of Manitoba, the balmy weather is even affecting the city of Winnipeg, which is traditionally so cold at this time of year that locals dub it Winterpeg.

“Normally we have snow drifts and a foot of snow. And it’s just really mild … there’s almost no snow,” city resident Lynn Stadnyk said by phone, noting she could still see grass on neighbors’ lawns.

“Personally, I like it, because you can go in and out the door without five layers.”

In some ways, this should not be a surprise. The year 2023 looks set to be one of the warmest on record and Canada has not had a chance to cool down.

Another reason is the El Nino phenomenon, a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that often results in milder temperatures.

Canadians like to ask each other “Cold enough for you?” as the temperatures bite, but that might be going out of fashion.

And the trend of warmer winters means people are likely to be spending less time outside engaged in traditional activities such as skiing, sledding or skating.

“What you’re seeing now this winter, is really a sneak preview of what will be normal in decades from now,” said Phillips, who has an idea as how to deal with the issue.

“I think if we could move Christmas a month from now, well, we almost guarantee a white Christmas everywhere. But that’s not going to happen,” he said with a laugh.