Canada: Weather Overview
Canada is a country of many varied climates- as you move from the very barren north that lies well and truly in the Arctic Circle down toward the border with the United States, you will cross a variety of weather conditions. As a whole, the climate in Canada varies from the Arctic in the very north, continental in the interior, and maritime to temperate on the coasts- in particular on the western coast and the surrounding islands.
The weather in Canada is varied, interesting and definitely something that you can find the best and worst of. Its proximity to various currents and home to coasts on the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean means that the climate is moderated and winters on the coast won't get as blistering cold as the inland. Summers, while short, is surprisingly warm, especially when considering its northern location.
Canada has seen its fair share of extremes in the past, and in the Spring and Winter (particularly in the east) the strong winds can make a -12 ºC days feel like a -30 ºC day. The coldest temperature ever recorded anywhere in Canada occur in the North West city of Snag, within the Yukon Territory. Snag lies close to the Alaskan border and witnesses some of the coldest temperatures in all of Canada. One cold February day back in 1947 saw the residents of Snag suffer through painful minimums of -63ºC. Snag regularly records Canada record winter lows, partly due to its northern location and partly due to its higher elevation.
Not far south of Snag and slightly further east, the city of Yellowknife is another location which often records some of the countryâs lowest minimums. In 1994 between December 31 and January 19, Yellowknife had a blistering 20 days in a row where the minimum temperature was at or below -37 ºC - not exactly the hottest way to have spent New Year's- Eve! In Yellowknife, the average nighttime winter temperature is a freezing -29 ºC!
Lying between 42 degrees North and 82 degrees North, a large proportion of the country lies within the Arctic Circle- making it home to long, severe and bitterly cold winters and short summers. Many of the large water masses, including the north seas, are frozen over for much of the year. Almost all of the countryâs main harbours, with the exception of the western coast upon the Pacific and the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, freeze over completely in the depths of the winter months.
In the far north-east of Canada, in the low lying plains winters get particularly cold, as the cold arctic air that blows from the high rises of the northern mountains blows to the south and east and has virtually nothing blocking it, meaning the blistering wind blows with full force into the low lying areas.
As you head further south in this region, however- upon the Atlantic shores, the winters are warmer than in interior Canada, particularly when the ocean waters donât freeze. While the lows sit well and truly below freezing point in the interior, upon the coast they will hover around freezing so the winter months are considerably milder.
British Columbia is a mountainous region that plays host to deep cut valleys as well as high rising mountain peaks. While the coastal regions see a temperate maritime climate, not too dissimilar from the British Isles, the weather becomes more continental as you move into the mountains and away from the coast. The main mountains which cover the province are the Coast Mountains and the main chain of the Canadian Rockies- where you will find peaks of over 10 000 feet, so there is snow cover for the entirety of the year. In the Coast Mountains, there is extremely heavy rainfall for the whole year, which turns into heavy snowfall at higher altitudes above 4000 feet.
The best way to gain an idea of the difference between coastal Canada and interior Canada is to compare the conditions between a coastal location, like Vancouver, and an inland location, like Prince George- both locations lie in British Columbia. In January Prince George sees the average minimum sit at a painful -16 ºC and the average daily maximum is a freezing â" 5 ºC. December sees lows of -13 ºC and highs of -4 ºC, and these blistering conditions continue into February and March with February seeing average daily lows of -14 ºC and a maximum high of -1 ºC! The difference between the coast and the interior is that the interior sees significantly less rainfall- as previously mentioned, Vancouver records monthly precipitation of over 200mm, while Prince George only measures about 40 to 50 mm of precipitation for the month. Summers can reach average daily highs of 24 ºC in the height of summer and temperatures in excess of 24 ºC are not uncommon. Minimums can fall to 6 ºC in the summer and the average high in August will sit at about 23 ºC. Rainfall, while still low, doesnât vary much from month to month in Prince George, though summer has a tendency to be wetter than winter.
Coastal and Southern Canada
The west coast is home to a beautiful climate, so much so that Vancouver- the largest city in British Columbia, was voted in the top three best places to live in the world (along with Zurich, Switzerland and Perth, Western Australia). Vancouverâs enviable location means that it is possible to ski in winter and swim in summer. Along with being on the coast, you are never far from one of the worlds most popular ski resorts- Whistler Blackcomb. You are in close proximity to the USA border, and only a short drive from the bustling life of Seattle. Vancouver is also home to the fewest days below freezing, often recording now more than 50 days where the mercury sits below 0 ºC.
Vancouver in winter is one of the warmest locations in Canada. The daily minimums from December, January and February are 2 ºC, 0 ºC and 1 ºC, respectively. Daily maximums sit at 6 ºC and 5 ºC through December and January before rising to 7 ºC come February. Winter is the wettest time of the year in Vancouver, through rain does fall throughout the whole year. On average the winter sees in excess of 200mm precipitation through each month and rain will fall on about 20 to 22 days per month. Summers in Vancouver, see June hold daily minimums of 11 ºC and maximums of 21 ºC, while July and August warm up to daily highs of 23 ºC. Rainfall falls to about 30mm to 60mm for the month and this will fall on 7 to 11 days per month.
Regions near the United States border lay in some of the most frequented tracts of cyclonic depressions. In fact in Winnipeg, which lies in the south, very close to the border, once witnessed a 32-hour storm which resulted in the city being buried under 35.8 centimetres of snow! The city has to spend one-quarter of its annual snow cleanup budget just to dig the city out from the aftermath of one single storm. In Winnipeg in the winter there is significant snowfall, December sees snowfall on average 9 days for the month, while January sees as many as 12 snow days. In the summer is when rainfall is at its highest, seeing 10 days of rain, on average, through May and June and 9 days in July