A Tame Winter – Mild With a Lack of Storminess

Winter 2015-2016 brought just what was predicted to southern Manitoba: much warmer than normal conditions, a shorter winter and a lack of major snowstorms overall (except the week before Christmas).

Daily temperature departures from normal from December to February in Winnipeg, via NOAA
Daily temperature departures from normal from December to February in Winnipeg, via NOAA

One of the Strongest El Ninos on Record

Whether or not this past winter featured the strongest El Nino on record has not been confirmed yet. There are many indices that measure the strength of El Nino and their values are still preliminary. Nonetheless, the Oceanic Nino Index (ONI) is one of the primary indices. It measures the 3-month average sea surface temperature departure from normal in the Nino 3.4 region (the central Equatorial Pacific Ocean). The ONI peaked at 2.3 in the November to January period, tied with the winter of 1997-1998 for highest on record since records began in 1950. Without a doubt, this past winter joined the winters of 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 for the top three strongest El Ninos since 1950.

CategoryTotal/AverageDeviation From NormalRank (Since 1872)
High Temperature-7.1°C+ 2.4°C13th warmest (tie)
Mean Temperature-11.3°C+ 3.2°C9th warmest
Low Temperature-15.4°C+4.0°C7th warmest (tie)
Rainfall0.4 mm (est.)- 4.2 mm69th rainiest (tie)
Snowfall85.0 cm+ 23.1 cm24th snowiest
Precipitation53.1 mm (est.)- 1.2 mm60th driest

A Top 10 Warmest Winter With a Lack of Cold Days

With an average mean temperature of -11.3°C in Winnipeg, winter 2015-2016 was the 9th warmest winter on record since 1872.

Top 10 Warmest Meteorological Winters (Dec-Jan-Feb) in Winnipeg Since 1872

RankMean TemperatureYear(s)
1-7.2°C1877-78
2-8.2°C1997-98
3-9.5°C1986-87
4-9.7°C2011-12
5-10.1°C1930-31
6-10.8°C1991-92, 2005-06
8-10.9°C1982-83
9-11.3°C2015-16
10-11.6°C1999-00

There was a notable lack of cold days from December to February with just 30 days dipping below -20°C. This was well below the 1981-2010 normal of 46 days and tied with the winter of 1918-19 for 8th least -20°C days since 1872. In addition, only 1 day dipped below -30°C, the third least -30°C days on record since 1872. The winters of 1930-1931 and 2011-2012 were the only ones to not see one day below -30°C and this winter was the only one to see just 1 day below -30°C. The 1981-2010 normal is 13 days below -30°C.

Winnipeg's Winter Ice Festival 2016
Despite warmth, it was still cold and snowy enough for Winnipeg’s winter festivals. The Ice Show, shown here, was a new addition this winter. Credit: ManitobaHot.com

Winter’s Late Arrival

A significant warm spell occurred in the first half of December, delaying the arrival of sustained winter conditions until mid December. In fact, it was the second warmest first half of December on record since 1872 in Winnipeg with an average mean temperature of -3.0°C. 14-consecutive days from the 3rd to 16th never dropped below -9°C and 8-10 days exceeded freezing. The only record broken during the warm spell was on December 9 when a high of 5.6°C at the airport broke the old record of 5.1°C in 1990. No snow was on the ground in parts of southwestern Manitoba and in the Morden-Winkler area allowing temperatures to reach double digits. In Morden, four days exceeded 10°C, three of which were record highs. The high of 14.2°C on December 4 was the third warmest on record in December since 1904. Some thermometers reportedly reached 15°C, more typical of late September or early October. A similar milestone was reached in Brandon with a high of 11.1°C on the 4th, the third warmest temperature in December since 1890.

In the end, it was the 9th warmest December since 1872 in Winnipeg with an average mean temperature of -8.1°C.

Stormiest Part of Winter

Winter, once it finally arrived, came in with a bang on December 16 thanks to a major Colorado Low. About 20 cm fell in Winnipeg, 18 cm of which fell on December 16 alone breaking the old record of 8.4 cm in 1942 for the day. Two additional snowstorms before Christmas dumped another 20 cm. Thanks to the snowfall, snow depth in Winnipeg sat at 30 cm on Christmas morning, the deepest snow pack on Christmas Day in 15 years (since a 30 cm depth in 2000). In total, 44.0 cm of snow fell in Winnipeg in December, 83% above normal and the 12th snowiest December on record since 1872.

January and February – Mild With Just Two Brief Cold Spells

The worst cold spell of the winter was in early to mid January from the 9th to the 19th. 5 days never rose above -20°C. The coldest night of the winter was on the 17th with a low of -32.3°C, the only -30°C day of the winter. Another brief cold spell occurred from February 8th to 13th, but was not very significant. The coldest temperature was only -27.9°C. Other than that, conditions were near to above normal, making for an easy mid-winter. It was warmest in late January and late February with a combined 8 days above freezing in Winnipeg. The late January warm spell in particular was sufficient to erode much of the snowpack in southwestern Manitoba thanks to warm temperatures and rainfall. Fields were nearly bare from Morden to Melita. Without much snow in February, these areas maintained a very thin to non-existent snowpack up until March. This allowed for warmer temperatures with highs reaching 9°C in Melita in early and late February.

Hoar frost and lack of snow south of Winkler February 1, 2016
Hoar frost and lack of snow south of Winkler February 1, 2016

In the end, January averaged -14.6°C in Winnipeg, 1.8°C above normal and tied 29th warmest since 1872. February averaged -11.1°C, 2.4°C above normal and tied 22nd warmest since 1873. This was only the second warmer than normal February since 2005.

February Thundersnow

Even some thundersnow occurred not far from the US border in late February, an extremely rare event in this area. One lightning strike was recorded northeast of Altona just after midnight on February 23. Even stronger thundersnow occurred just south of the border near Langdon, ND in the evening on February 28.

Remarkably Warm February Out West

The further west you went in the Prairies, the warmer it was in February. Cold snaps generally remained to the northeast and there was little to no snow on the ground from Melita, MB westward to Calgary, AB. Persistent warmth was the story in this area, especially in southern Alberta. After February 3rd, every single day exceeded the freezing mark in Calgary and this streak has continued into March. In addition, 7 days in February reached double digits with a monthly high of 16.9°C on February 26. There was also a lack of snow with not a single snowfall from February 2nd to 27th. With just 1.8 cm, it was the 5th least snowy February since 1885 in Calgary. Lethbridge, AB was even warmer in February with 15 days reaching double digits. Saskatchewan also received this extreme warmth. Only 11 days failed to exceed the freezing mark in Regina. The monthly high was 13.2°C on February 26, the second warmest temperature on record in February since 1884.

From east to west, here’s how February averaged and ranked across the southern Prairies:

CityAverageDeviation From NormalRank
Winnipeg, MB-11.1°C+ 2.4°C22nd warmest (tied)
Brandon, MB-9.3°C+ 4.3°C7th warmest
Regina, SK-4.5°C+ 7.6°C4th warmest
Calgary, AB1.4°C+ 6.8°C2nd warmest

North Dakota Record February Warmth

The warmth was also extreme to our south in North Dakota. Bismarck, located in southwestern North Dakota, reached a record 23°C on February 27. This was the warmest temperature ever recorded in North Dakota in February, breaking the old record of 22°C in 1992.

State of the Climate: A Look at 2015

Welcome to A Weather Moment’s look back at the weather in Winnipeg for 2015. In this update, we’re going to take a look at how temperature & precipitation developed through the year and how 2015 stacked up against the history books. In another post coming soon, we’ll take a look at the top 10 weather events of 2015!

2015 Stats & Rankings for Winnipeg
Category2015 Average or TotalRank (since 1873)
High Temperature10.1°C7th warmest (tie)
Mean Temperature4.2°C9th warmest
Low Temperature-1.7°C11th warmest (tie)
Rainfall450.9 mm38th rainiest
Snowfall116.7 cm64th least snowy
Precipitation529.6 mm61st wettest

Temperature: Chilly Start With A Mild Finish

With a mean temperature of 4.2°C at the Winnipeg International Airpot, 2015 was the 9th warmest year on record since 1873 in Winnipeg and the warmest since 2012. This was 1.3°C warmer than the 1981-2010 normal of 2.9°C. In addition, daily high temperatures averaged 10.1°C, only the 9th time since 1873 that this value was in the double digits. The graph below shows how each month fared compared to normal and how the year-to-date average changed throughout the year.

Only three months were colder than the 1981-2010 normals: February (-5.7°C), May (-0.4°C) and August (-0.2°C). February was by far the most abnormally cold month, averaging -19.2°C, 5.7°C below normal and the 27th coldest February since 1873. It was also the 3rd coldest February since 1980 and the 11th coldest February in the last century. Only 6 days rose above -10°C, tied 10th least since 1873. Interestingly, it was the 10th colder than normal February in the last 11 years.

Six months in 2015 averaged over 2°C above normal: December (+5.4°C), November (+3.7°C), September (+2.9°C), March (+2.8°C), January (+2.7°C) and October (+2.0°C). There was a streak of four months averaging over 2°C at the end of the year. In fact, the September to December period was the third warmest on record since 1872 with an average of 3.5°C. Only 1931 (avg 4.1°C) and 1923 (avg 3.7°C) were warmer. The 1981-2010 normal is 0.0°C.

Top 10 Warmest Years in Winnipeg (Since 1873)
RankAverage Mean TemperatureYear
15.4°C1987
25.3°C1931
34.7°C1878 & 1998
54.6°C2012
64.5°C2006
74.4°C1981
84.3°C1999
94.2°C2015
104.1°C2010

Other stats included:

  • 12 days above 30°C at the airport (normal is 14 days) and 16 days at The Forks
  • 45 days below -20°C at the airport (normal is 53 days) and 33 days at The Forks
  • 3 new record highs (13.2°C on Mar 14, 24.8°C on Apr 15 and 5.6°C on Dec 9) and 3 new record high minimums (21.2°C on Aug 15, 21.0°C on Sep 3 and 5.3°C on Nov 16)
  • NO new record lows or low maximums in 2015

Precipitation: Highly Variable & Above Normal

2015 was a wet year in the Red River Valley. In Winnipeg, 450.9 mm of rain fell at the airport, about 23 mm above normal. This was on the low end of things because many stations inside the city received over 500 mm. 544.0 mm of rain fell in south St. Vital, the rainiest year since 2010. August was the rainiest month with 148.8 mm in Charleswood, 140.5 mm in south St. Vital and 107.8 mm at the airport. The rainiest day of the year in the south end was August 22 with 68.8 mm in Charleswood and 54.5 mm in south St. Vital. September 4 was the airport’s rainiest day with 41.1 mm. These rainy days were the consequence of heavy thunderstorms.

In terms of snowfall, generally 115 to 120 cm or so fell in Winnipeg. This is basically bang on normal. More than a third of this snow fell in December with 44.0 cm, the 12th snowiest December on record since 1872. In fact, about 40 cm fell in just 8 days from December 16 to 23.

Combining rainfall with melted snowfall gives a total precipitation amount for the year. About 530 mm fell in Winnipeg officially, which is within a few mm of normal (note that I use The Forks station in the winter months and the airport station in the warmer months because the airport station underestimates winter precipitation). Again, most parts of the Red River Valley saw much more. 632.3 mm of precipitation fell in south St. Vital, about 80 mm more than in 2014 and the most since 2010. Widespread totals over 600 mm occurred south and southeast of the city. Locally over 700 mm was recorded at some CoCoRaHS stations in the Steinbach area. The higher totals were seen in areas that were hardest hit by heavy thunderstorms over the summer.

Other stats included:

  • 3 new record high rainfalls (31.3 mm on May 17, 38.4 mm on Aug 22 and 41.1mm on Sep 4)
  • 1 new record high snowfall (18.0 cm on Dec 16)

Wrapping Up 2015

Overall, it was a very warm and wet year in the Red River Valley.

The 30-year normal temperature in Winnipeg now stands at 3.0°C (1986-2015 period), tied with the 1984-2013 period for warmest 30-year period since 1872. This means we are currently the warmest we have been in at least 140 years.

It was also an active year for thunderstorms across southern Manitoba with numerous severe hail and tornado events. Stay tuned over the next couple weeks for the top 10 events and stories of the year which will summarize the biggest extremes we saw in 2015.

State of the Climate: Meteorological Winter 2014-15

Daily temperature anomalies this winter (source)
Daily temperature anomalies this winter (source)

This winter has been much easier to handle compared to last year. Despite frigid conditions returning in February, meteorological winter 2014-2015 still averaged close to normal thanks to warm conditions in December and January. The 3-month period averaged -14.3°C, just 0.2°C above normal. This is 6.0°C warmer than last winter!

Meteorological winter rankings for Winnipeg
CategoryWinter 2014-15 Total/Avg.Rank (Since 1872–73)
High Temp.–9.5°CTied 42nd Warmest
Mean Temp.–14.3°CTied 33rd Warmest
Low Temp.–19.0°CTied 35th Warmest
Rainfall1.2 mm (est.)48th Rainiest
Snowfall~ 43 cm28th Least
Precipitation~ 31 mm9th Driest

Mild & Lack of Snow in December and January

December was the warmest month of the winter, averaging -10.0°C. This was 3.5°C above normal and a whopping 10.9°C warmer than in 2013. Many people would probably remember December for its gloominess however. Several consecutive days of cloud, fog and freezing drizzle occurred. In fact, freezing drizzle fell on 7 days. The cloud kept our daytime highs cooler than they could have been, but helped keep us warm at night. In fact, 3 daily high minimum records were broken. Most notable was a low of -0.5°C on December 12 which broke the old record of -3.9°C back in 1877, Winnipeg’s warmest December on record. Sunshine made more of an appearance in southwestern Manitoba where highs well above zero occurred. Even a few double digit highs were recorded close to the US border. For instance, Deloraine reached 10.3°C on December 11.

There was also a lack of snow in December. Just 7.2 cm fell in Winnipeg, the 16th least snowiest December since 1872. In addition, snow depth never rose above 10 cm. Some areas close the US border even experienced a brown Christmas. The photo below is from Emerson on Christmas Eve morning.

Emerson on Christmas Eve morning
Emerson on Christmas Eve morning

After a cold snap to start 2015, the warmth returned mid January. Temperatures exceeded the freezing mark, nights were unusually mild and what little snow there was on the ground was melting. In the end, January finished 2.7°C above normal, tying with 2010 for 19th warmest. Thanks to melting, snow depth was just 12 cm at the end of the month, the 12th thinnest snow pack at the end of January since 1941.

In total, 11 days in December and January exceeded the freezing mark in Winnipeg, above the normal of 7 days.

February Cold Snap

Winter made its presence well known in February. The month was awfully reminiscent of last year with seemingly endless colder than normal conditions. The month averaged -19.2°C, 5.7°C below normal and the 27th coldest February since 1873. 21 days dipped below -20°C, above the normal of 14 days. The monthly high was a measly -3.1°C. In fact, only 6 days rose above -10°C, tied 10th least since 1873. This February was the 10th colder than normal February in the last 11 years. Since 2005, only 2012 had a warmer than normal February.

Lack of Snow This Winter

Approximately 43 cm of snow fell from December to February (exact amount to be confirmed), about 19 cm below normal. Even more unusual, only approximately 31 mm of precipitation fell making it the 9th driest meteorological winter since the winter of 1872/1873. Now in March, snow depth only sits around 20 cm in Winnipeg.

A Look Back at 2014

I will end this post with a quick look back at the cold year that was 2014. The year averaged 1.2°C, 1.7°C below normal. In fact, it was the coldest year since 1996. Although it was only tied 28th coldest since 1873, it was the 9th coldest in the last century. This was in large part thanks to the very cold winter and spring we experienced.

Monthly & year-to-date temperature deviations for 2014 in Winnipeg, MB
Monthly & year-to-date temperature deviations for 2014 in Winnipeg, MB

As for precipitation, 2014 was slightly drier than normal in some parts of the city and wetter than normal in others. Approximately just less than 500 mm of rain fell officially at the airport, slightly below the normal of 527 mm. It was wetter in southern and southwestern parts of the city where heavy thunderstorms dumped locally flooding rains in the summer. Well over 400 mm of rain fell in these locations. At my place in South St. Vital I recorded 450.0 mm of rain and 550.6 mm of precipitation.

Monthly & year-to-date precipitation amounts for 2014 in Winnipeg, MB
Monthly & year-to-date precipitation amounts for 2014 in Winnipeg, MB. Data combined from the James Richardson International Airport and The Forks.
Overall, snowfall was close to normal with 118.4 cm (normal is 117.3 cm). Nearly 80% of this fell from January to April. As mentioned already, there was a notable lack of snow in December.


Note: Unless otherwise noted, all normals stated in this post are the 1981-2010 normals. I use the normals that I have calculated which you can see anytime by following this link.