The Senior Climatologist with Environment Canada says the "balmy" weather we have been experiencing since Christmas may soon come to an abrupt end. David Phillips says their models are showing a polar vortex in Siberia that is tracking toward western Canada. That vortex has seen some weather stations in northern Russia record temperatures below -60, and that's without factoring in the wind. Although it would most likely never get that cold here, it could mean some frigid temperatures may be coming.
But Phillips is quick to point out that this change in the weather could still be a few weeks away.
"Typically, when the polar vortex appears to begin to move, it takes about three weeks to finally get from Siberia over to North America," he clarifies.
Phillips says the question being asked in southern Manitoba is, "Where is winter?" He reminds us that December was only about half a degree cooler than normal. However, January has so far been four degrees warmer than normal with very little snowfall. Phillips notes since Christmas, there has been only a single day where the temperature dipped below -20 degrees, where we would normally have 12 of those days during that stretch.
But Phillips explains it appears this is all about to change. Now, he stresses that southern Manitoba should not see the same -60 degree temperatures that can be experienced in Siberia. Rather, we can expect lows in the -30 degree range. He notes this cold snap will likely envelope us for at least a couple of weeks.
For those who have appreciated the last few weeks where very little shoveling has been required, Phillips says the arrival of the polar vortex might only help that cause. That is because, typically, when you get this cold Arctic air, it results in plenty of sunshine and only light winds.
"We don't get storms, you don't get Alberta Clippers, we don't get Colorado Lows coming from the Arctic," he explains. "So, it tends to be just dry, crisp,and sunny, but really cold air and that dominates."
Phillips says it is after the polar vortex leaves that you often get stormy weather.
According to Phillips, southern Manitoba has been experiencing milder weather with more cloud cover this winter because of all the southerly and westerly air over our region. This has resulted in a humid winter without precipitation, which he says is odd. Daytime highs of -4 degrees are in the forecast for both Friday and Saturday this week, when the normal high is -12 degrees. Phillips says their models are showing the next two weeks will continue to be mild until the potential arrival of the polar vortex.
"Now, a lot can happen before it gets there. It could just disappear, or it could go elsewhere," he points out. "But the models seem to suggest, and the American models are saying the same thing, that we're looking at February across the west as being colder than normal."
He says their maps are also showing February will have normal amounts of precipitation. Phillips reminds us that we are already into the back half of winter. He notes we are gaining nearly three minutes of daylight every day, plus February is just around the corner, which happens to be the shortest month of the year.
Phillips says when and if the polar vortex comes, it will probably produce the coldest conditions that southern Manitoba will see this winter, though still a long way off from the -45 degrees being felt today in Verkhoyansk, Russia.
"I hope I'm wrong. I hope the models are wrong," admits Phillips. "But they all seem to agree on the same thing. It's going to turn colder in the first days of February and continue for at least a couple of weeks."