A parked car is buried in snow following a winter storm in Toronto last week. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)
If you think this year’s winter is a bit harsher than those in your recent memory, blame La Nina.
Environment Canada says the weather phenomenon has been wreaking havoc around the globe — and having an effect here at home.
“We’ve already had more snow this winter as we had all winter last year,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist.
La Nina, which Phillips describes as “the nasty sister of El Nino,” is the result of the cooling of the Pacific Ocean along the equator and the subsequent changing of wind patterns.
For Canada, this generally leads to colder and longer winters as systems come in from the northern air masses, although Ontario is not usually affected as much as the western provinces.
“What we see is more cold spells and a bit more snow, but it varies,” said Phillips. According to Phillips, the winter may even be a little longer than the last, with the possibility of snow into April.
“It is good for skiers, not good for people who want to save money on their home heating bills,” said Phillips.
La Nina tends to come every three to seven years; scientists are never able to predict its arrival, only what may happen once it’s here.
“It affects the weather around the globe,” said Phillips. “Some of the floods in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Australia are directly related to La Nina.”
Raging floodwaters have swamped thousands of homes and businesses in Queensland, leaving at least 25 people dead and dozens more missing since late November. Rail lines and highways have been washed away in what is shaping up to become Australia's costliest natural disaster.
The flooding follows a spate of severe natural disasters in the past year. While the most deadly was Haiti's earthquake, extreme weather also killed thousands of people across the globe, including a scorching heat wave that choked Russia in the summer and devastating floods that engulfed more than 150,000 square kilometres in Pakistan.
The effects of La Nina can last anywhere from six months to 18 months. El Nino, on the other hand, is the result of temperatures rising in Pacific Ocean along South America, and brings Canada much shorter and warmer winters like that of last year.
“What’s been unusual this year is that it went from El Nino to La Nina almost overnight,” said Phillips, explaining that there is usually a transition period of neutral ocean temperatures between the two.
With files from The Associated Press