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Chief climatologist embarrassed by warm winter

EDMONTON - The chief climatologist for Environment Canada admits he has egg on his face.

EDMONTON - The chief climatologist for Environment Canada admits he has egg on his face.

Dave Phillips predicted last fall that Western Canada would have a colder than normal winter, but it's been the exact opposite.

It's the second- or third-warmest winter on record for some of the prairie provinces.

"We sometimes don't get it right. It's not something that's perfect," said Phillips. "Maybe nature sneers at these forecasts and gives us the opposite."

But he's not alone: most forecasters across Canada and the United States got it wrong.

The Weather Network suggested a roller-coaster winter with major storms for the West. AccuWeather also forecast parts of North America would be hit with the worst winter in 20 years.

Instead, temperatures are about seven degrees warmer than normal and there has been loads less snow. Winnipeg has recorded 44 centimetres of the white stuff so far this winter, compared to 117 cm at the same time last year.

In Alberta, the golf course in Picture Butte north of Lethbridge is opening Feb. 1 for the season — a first in its 50-year history.

Phillips said he always gives the same advice: never bet money on the weatherman.

Weather technology simply doesn't allow forecasters to make precise, long-term forecasts, he said.

This season, they relied on the presence of the cold Pacific Ocean current La Nina as a sign that a nasty winter was coming.

They were also thwarted by an uncommonly high jet stream keeping the cold Arctic air up north, he said.

Phillips suspects most people are happy about the mistake. But he warns they shouldn't be pulling out their patio sets just yet.

There's still a couple months to go before spring, he said. It can still get colder, and up to 45 per cent of the season's snow usually falls after Feb. 1.

"I still think there's a lot of winter left in the air."

 
 
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