The map that sparked the ‘darkest winter in Ontario’ story.Brian Brettschneider

If you thought, or felt, that the winter of 2023 was grey and gloomy, you were right.

Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the Alaska Region of the United States National Weather Service, created a map of winter solar energy over North America and Manitoulin Island is the bullseye.

And depending on your philosophical bent, the bullseye is not in a “we won” kind of way.

Mr. Brettschneider made the map because in Anchorage, Alaska, where he works as a climatologist, February was very cloudy and snowy. He couldn’t see the Aurora and wondered why.

Being a climatologist he then took the climatological (or meteorological) winter data in early March from the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) who, he says, “are the gold standard for producing climate re-analysis data.”

The map he created for climatological winter, December 1, 2022 to February 28, 2023, showing the lack of solar energy over Ontario proved to be extremely popular.

Mr. Brettschneider said he has done hundreds of climate and weather related interviews over the years but he has “never done more interviews than on this topic.”

Mr. Brettschneider believes “there has been so much interest in this because it’s a shared experience; a dark and dreary winter is a community bonding experience.”

The map itself shows Manitoulin Island covered by a large black dot because Manitoulin had the most dramatic drop in solar energy compared to normal.

Mr. Brettschneider describes it this way: “If you had a solar panel generating electricity for the last 80 years and kept records of the amount of energy generated, the energy generated this winter would be the lowest amount of all of the 80 winters of data.”

In terms of solar energy December was typical, January was noteworthy across Ontario and then February remained low in solar energy, specifically for the Manitoulin region.

Manitoulin Island does come out the winner with the bullseye in one respect as Mr. Brettschneider shared with The Expositor, his previously unshared map specifically of February 2023 solar energy.

According to Mr. Brettschneider the dark winter on Manitoulin Island was caused by two systems. In January an upper level of high pressure south of Hudson Bay caused an easterly flow of moist air to the Manitoulin region from the Maritimes and Atlantic. This moist air created the clouds experienced in January.

Then in February an area of high pressure over the eastern coast of the United States created a southerly flow of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. When this air travelled over the unfrozen portions of the Great Lakes, it picked up even more moist air creating the cloudy conditions in February.

On Manitoulin this winter, “the dominant winds were from the east and south with less north and westerly flows,” said Mr. Brettschneider. The north and west winds normally blow the clouds away, clearing the skies.

With winter officially over, both climatologically and astronomically, what does spring of 2023 have in store for Manitoulin Island?

Astronomical spring arrived on March 20 and the Farmer’s Almanac prediction of “a turbulent transition to warmth” appears to be bearing fruit, with a good old fashioned spring snowstorm this past Saturday, March 25.

The Farmer’s Almanac then predicts snow and slush around the Great Lakes into early April, followed by a generally showery spring with mild temperatures.

Climatological spring is from March 1 to May 31.

An Environment and Climate Change Canada map predicting seasonal surface radiation from March to May 2023 shows a 40 percent probability that we will see more sunny days than normal over the far east end of Manitoulin Island and the normal amount of sunny days over the rest of Manitoulin.

Hope springs eternal.

By Maureen Strickland, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 28, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Manitoulin Expositor   Little Current, Ontario
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