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Winnipeg winter may just break warm weather records, says one expert

It’s a trend that one Winnipeg expert says can affect the love for winter that some residents have.

Warm weather is not uncommon in winter, according to Alex Crawford with the University of Manitoba. As an assistant professor with the school’s department of environment and geography, Crawford said the kind of temperatures the city is seeing and will continue to see this week aren’t ridiculous.

What’s crazy, he said, is that there haven’t been many days of really cold weather.

“If you look at this winter, we are tied for the fewest number of days that get down below -20 C, that we’ve ever seen,” Crawford said. “The question is, are we going to beat the record for the whole winter? … Right now, we are on pace to do it.”

He added that temperatures can go above zero degrees Celsius over the winter, although it doesn’t usually happen every year. He noted that if the city gets at least two cold snaps before the end of the season, the record might not be broken. A single cold snap could mean a new record for Winnipeg.

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This winter coincides with an El Nino year, Crawford said. An El Nino year occurs when more heat is released into the atmosphere, making certain areas in North America warmer and drier than usual. Warmer water from the Pacific Ocean affects jet streams and weather patterns around the world, leading to milder and less snowy winter in Canada. But even with El Nino, Crawford added that this year’s winter season is emblematic of global warming seen over the last century.

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“We have data in Winnipeg that goes back to the 1870s. … It’s important to recognize that, yes, this is one of the warmest winters we’ve had. This is strange for us right now. But if you think about your grandkids, it won’t be stranger to them. This is going to be more common in the future,” Crawford said.

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The professor noted that the last big El Nino cycle was in 2016. Compared with this winter, that wasn’t as warm for the city. This season is close to breaking a record, he said, because of the additional warmth caused by global warming.

And while it wouldn’t be clear just yet that global warming is playing a role in the changing weather patterns, such trends take time and years to materialize. Those trends are based on data that experts and scientists already have, Crawford said.

As for the impact this could have on residents, Crawford emphasized the lack of wintery fun for many. From ice skating disruptions to impacts on wintery sports, he said the effects of warmer winters can be felt by many who make good use of a cold snap.

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“This sort of year will become more common in the future, as things continue to warm,” he said.

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