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Winter is really coming this time. Probably

Back Roads Bill says natural signs point to early winter but maybe not like they used to be

Get your snow shovels ready. Winter-like weather will start earlier than expected almost a month early and the natural signs were evident in August. There are others that differ with this prediction.

Making a climatic prediction is a tricky business and this will be my ninth go at it, I still have an ‘A-’ grade. There are four parts to the winter prediction.

Most forecasting models indicate La Niña conditions are set to emerge shortly and continue through winter 2021-22. The analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the latest outlook indicates a 70-80 per cent chance of a La Niña winter this year.

La Niña is characterized by colder-than-average sea surface levels in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. It reorganizes heat and rainfall on such a large scale that it impacts the jetstream over the North Pacific Ocean and has downstream impacts over North America.

This means a milder winter. But don’t count on it, La Niña is more of an indication of what to expect rather than a guarantee about what will happen in the coming months.

Last week AccuWeather released its annual Canada winter forecast this week, expert meteorologist Brett Anderson said it is anticipated there will be increased snowfall and milder temperatures for much of Northern Ontario.

The Weather Network looked at the fall leading into the winter.

“However, we do expect a pattern reversal late in the season. For Ontario, Quebec and parts of the Maritimes, this should bring a quicker start to winter than we have often seen during the past 25 years," the network said. "We have become accustomed to very mild Decembers, but this year should bring more typical amounts of winter weather during the weeks leading up to and through the holidays.”

On Monday, Oct. 18, I reached out to David Phillips, from Environment Canada. He has been a climatologist for more than fifty years. The most important thing he said is related to ongoing climate change.

“For more winters looking ahead, it will not be so much about the amount of snow but the increase in the frequencies of freezing rain with milder trends.”

He said the summer was warmer in Northern Ontario by a couple of degrees and with a milder fall to date there is a great deal of residual heat on the land and in the water. Environment Canada models for the winter do not occur until Dec. 1.

“La Niña episodes are not like they used to be, in recent years it has changed, it is not a sure thing but there may be the propensity for being a little milder.”

He notes the polar vortex; such as the one experienced last year, makes for a number of appearances with the occasional cold spell and fierce storm occurrences.

“My sense heading through a milder fall, I think we are headed toward a snowier – and that might mean more rain; and maybe not as mild as last winter which was mild." He reminds us, “Remember we have never cancelled winter.”

Snowmobile talk

Then there are the winter lovers like Jeff McGirr a reputable snowmobile blogger and ever the optimist.

“I'm a motorsports enthusiast who loves the outdoors and Northern Ontario. I share my adrenaline-filled activities with the world via my YouTube Channel!"

Within his most recent winter prediction article within Northern Ontario Travel click here, there are a number of fancy maps and analogies, have a look.

Jeff utilizes part of Back Roads Bill’s more natural prediction. 

All factors above point to an early start to winter.

It appears as if the transition will be sharp and occur sometime in mid-late November with December producing set-up freeze conditions, followed by an ample snowy base. The merger of expert prognosis, calculated modelling, wetness, Farmers Almanac, and of course Bill’s wild intelligence tell me this is almost certainly going to happen!

I’m ecstatic for an early start. So tune 'em up now, get those new deck boards on that bridge, and plan and book an amazing snowmobile adventure early.”

Backroads Bill warns us we better be ready for an early start to winter, and the Farmer’s Almanac is telling us that we need to be ready to weather the storms. Forecasters in touch with the wilderness are putting us on notice, the essence of their predictions is that we’re in for a good ole fashion Canadian Winter.

It’s more than likely than not we will see a significant decade notable winter in Ontario, yes some areas may experience bitter cold while others get hammered with snow flip-flopping back and forth! All good news!

The animals and plants may be telling us this winter will come in like a lion and out like a lamb, so please ensure you're verifying ice and trail conditions prior to squeezing the throttle.


People do like to know when winter will start, how long it will last, the amount of snow expected and how cold the days and nights will be. It is part of our Canadian culture.

I subscribe to beaver behaviour. A reliable void in climatic prediction was created on March 14, 2013, when long-time weather prognosticator, Dokis resident, Gord Restoule passed away.

He was regarded as a wealth of what he would call “common sense,” but what scientists now refer to as “traditional knowledge.” For most of his life, Gord judged the weather through personal experiences and the “passed along” wisdom of the elders.

He said with a wry smile, “You always learned by listening to the wisdom in their stories. Old Indians never waste any words.”

He would say,

“The first step in making a prediction is to be one with nature. Most people don’t see the signs and are too much in a hurry,” he would say.

"The behaviour of animals, birds and insects, the face of the sky and the growth of plants lead him to report a multitude of weather maxims with good accuracy. These are always present to those who take notice of little things.”

Restoule used the simple beliefs of his ancestors who lived and survived through a relationship with their changing environment.

As a settler, I am privileged to learn such wisdom from my mentor, a knowledge keeper. You have to spend a great deal of time outside to know.

Some will not, but winter enthusiasts will be happy to know winter is going to start a month earlier than normal.

There are so many telltale signs this year starting with the early exit of the songbirds that was a significant indicator along with the early turning of colour with common plants. I made this call on Aug. 18. It was based on the too early emergence of American mountain ash berries while wild sarsaparilla and bracken seemed to start their fall transition earlier leading into dormancy. The beavers also started to gather more for their feed beds earlier this year, another indication of an early winter. Spring was really early this year; I predicted that would happen last year.

The beaver lodges are not looking like they are lathered with a lot of mud, so again a milder winter.

The geese, they’ve been flying a steady sky trail high in the sky. Gord would say they are in a hurry with fewer stops.

In the woods, the bears seem to be really active more active than normal; it was a terrible berry crop this past summer.

Summer vacationers the hummingbirds just seemed to disappear by the end of August, headed back south and Blue Jays, who are year-round residents, have been unusually more raucous than previous years. Recently, the colour change was shorter and the colours muted.

Trees are always a good sign. Conifers, particularly the red and white pines have shed a great deal more needles this year — a sign the trees are ready for an early spring and growth. The frogs and toads went to bed earlier this year.

When will the snow be on the ground? Right now the ground is unusually wet, saturated, so it will be a guess as to when the early snows will finally stay. The night lows are starting to be hovering around O°C.

There were so many other signs this year. The squirrels were collecting cones way too early. Other song birds seemed to leave almost immediately when September arrived, same with the insects, particularly the moths through the metamorphism process.

There were so many more ground wasp hives this year. The mushrooms started to push through the organic layer a couple of weeks early. The winter berries are also ripening at an accelerated pace.

Bill’s prediction was recently featured on the CBC.

The vagaries of climate change extremes are making natural indicator predictions more difficult but Mother Nature still knows best.

Based on all the natural indicators it will start earlier and will be an overall milder winter, with no significant prolonged cold spells or an overabundance of snow accumulation.

Further again it looks like we will see an early spring. But as David Phillips says, “we can put a man on the moon but we still can’t predict the weather.” Who does know anyway?


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Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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