It was a wild and wonderful weekend in the Pacific Northwest as a multi-day snowstorm descended on our area. Almost 7 feet fell over approximately 3 days, and this snowfall coupled with low temperatures and high winds made for quite the aftermath. I knew this was no normal storm when I came home Saturday night, in the middle of the storm, and had to dig my way into my house.
Ten minutes later I was inside, furnace blaring and the kettle whistling, pondering this weather system. Snow is not a rarity in Northern British Columbia. Indeed, Kitimat means "People of the Snow," and we'd heard the stories of snowfalls so deep people had to shovel their roofs before their steps. That being said, even the locals agreed there was something extra wild and wooly about this storm.
Curious, I conducted a few Google searches and discovered that our current storm was the result of an Arctic Outflow. What's that, you say? Well, it was new to me, too, so I searched a little further, and on Wikipedia, I found the following definition:
An Arctic Outflow Warning is based on a combination of wind speed and temperatures which produce wind chills of at least -20 for at least six hours during the winter when very cold Arctic air breaks from the interior mainland of British Columbia and spills out through mountain gaps and fjords.
Ah. Mountain gaps and fjords. Well, that pretty much describes Kitimat!
This mystery solved, I got to thinking about regional weather warnings and how they vary across North America (and indeed the world). I often hear from my readers how interesting they find life in Northern British Columbia and Canada in general, so I decided today to share with you some of the winter weather warnings we hear and experience throughout the colder months. I'm going to insert actual passages from Environment Canada, and then add my two cents.
Heavy Snowfall - What do most people think of when they think of Canada? Snow! And while, contrary to popular belief, we don't have it year round, most parts of Canada do receive a fair amount of snow.
Heavy Snow can greatly reduce visibility, create hazardous road conditions, and knock down trees and power lines.
- Environment Canada
Nesty Notes - Prior to the cold weather setting in, make sure your home and car are ready for the worst. Remember to check your 72 Hour Emergency Kit and stock your car with food, water, blankets and a winter emergency kit. Keep your shovel where you can get to it; ours was inside our porch, a good thing it was considering our sheds were buried under the snow. And speaking of shoveling, keep an eye on your driveway; sometimes it's easier to stay on top of it throughout the snowfall than to try and remove seven feet of snow all at once. If this happens, try to befriend someone with a snow blower. Cookies help.
Winter Storm - This is what we experienced this past weekend and, while it's pretty to look at, it's not all curling up by the fire and sipping hot cocoa...
Winter storms are large-scale weather systems, hundreds of kilometres across, that are called extratropical cyclones because they form and develop outside of the Tropics. These storms gather their energy from the temperature and moisture differences across the boundary where different air masses meet or collide. The larger the differences in the temperature and moisture levels across this boundary, called a front, the more energy there is available for the storms to develop. This is why some are stronger, or more intense, than others.
Winter storms tend to move from west to east and can produce strong winds, heavy snowfall, freezing rain and bitterly cold temperatures as they impact any given area.
Nesty Notes - In addition to ensuring your emergency supplies are in place well in advance of the cold weather season, when a winter storm in in effect, please listen to the road reports and do what the police are advising you to do!! I will never understand why people feel the need to go careening around in their cars in the middle of storms. Stay out of the way of snow removal crews (a popular commercial in Nova Scotia notes "This isn't a feather duster I'm driving!") Also, remember your pets! They should NEVER be left outside during the cold or inclement weather of any kind. End of story!!!
Wind Chill - If you've ever found yourself walking into the wind on a cold winter's day, you've experienced wind chill:
Wind chill is when the wind makes cold temperatures feel even colder. Environment Canada’s wind chill index will tell you the combined cooling effect of these factors on the human body. It uses temperature-like units to liken the current conditions to how cold your skin would feel on a calm day.
Days with an extreme wind chill value can cause exposed skin to freeze very rapidly, leading to frostbite. Wind chill can also play a major role in hypothermia, because it speeds up the rate at which your body loses heat. Protect yourself by taking appropriate steps to stay warm when you are outdoors.
Nesty Notes - In my experience, when there is a wind chill warning in effect, unless you absolutely have go out, these are days to stay inside. If you must go out, make sure you bundle up; thermal underwear, hats, mittens, and a warm coat and boots are a must. Essentially, cover all skin and cover it well. Now is not the time to worry about fashion. If you don't have a car and need to go somewhere, take a cab or the bus; it's worth it. Keep kids inside. And again, bring your pets in.
There are other winter weather conditions, like blizzards, blowing snow, and snowsqualls, but for today I'm focusing on the ones that particularly effect my area. This link will take you to Environment Canada's web page of Winter Hazards which is where I got the excerpts listed above.
Stay safe and warm! I'll be back on Friday with a vegetarian family favorite, Spiced Bean Tagine. See you then!!!