TORONTO – A funny thing happened in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved: Canada is no longer officially the coldest countries on Earth, but dropped to second place behind Russia.
When Environment Canada announced the news, the reaction was far from pleasant nationwide.
“It was like taking away our rights,” recalls David Phillips, a senior climatologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada. “People do not cheer by it – they were disappointed that we were no longer the coldest.”
Canada has a complex relationship with cold weather. We wanted to complain about the cold, but sometimes quick to judge other people’s interpretation of what constitutes nasty winter weather. In 1999, Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman triggered a lot of eye-rolls when he called the army after they were pelted with almost 40 centimeters of snow.
“We’re the laughingstock of the country,” said Phillips, who lives north of Toronto. “People said, ‘This is Canada, this is winter, suck it … I do not think Toronto never live that down.”
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The memories are dredged national strike Thursday when Toronto Public Health issued a warning of extreme cold weather. Overnight temperatures are expected to drop to -12 C, without wind chill.
Toronto issues such warnings when temperatures drop around -15 C or colder, or when the wind chill is expected to reach -20 C or colder. The warning also enables additional public services, including the downtown central heating, which provides a safe place for vulnerable populations homeless and other cities.
Despite their fears, more than 140 Twitter users responded to the tweet on alert, with many showing that the city needed to toughen up.
“Toronto is the Canadian city at least in this country,” one user tweeted. Others called the city “soft” and “a joke” and suggested that -12 C in places like Edmonton and Montreal would be considered comfortable.
But how Canada responds to cold varies dramatically from province to province. Wearing long johns under your clothes may become the norm in cities such as Winnipeg, but someone who lives in the Greater Toronto Area can get away with not having snow pants.
Phillips said the regional differences make all the difference in how the Environment and Climate Change Canada issued its warning.
“It comes down to the fact that people are better conditioned, well equipped, have better clothes to deal with situations in Western Canada,” he said. “Western thought if winter can begin after Halloween, they have won. We wait until December or January and think, ‘OK, cool-season can start now.’ ”
In fact, Environment and Brampton News has a different threshold for when it will issue its own extreme cold weather alert her. To issue such warnings, temperatures should be expected to fall below a certain sign for at least two hours.
Those thresholds include:
- -30 C in Toronto, Ottawa, and southern Ontario
- -35 C for Atlantic Canada
- -38 C for parts of Quebec, including Montreal
- -40 C for north Ontario and the southern Prairies
- -45 C for northernmost regions of Ontario, northern Manitoba and northern British Columbia
- -50 C for Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and parts of Nunavut
- -55 C for Canada’s northernmost regions, including the northern tip of Baffin Island and other Arctic communities
If Environment Canada is a warning threshold issue based on national unity, they live in cold regions and are likely to stop listening, Phillips said.
“People are just going to listen to you. So you have to be careful how often you remove it, “he said. “You want people to listen and make personal adjustments.”
In a country where winter temperatures can range from 50 C from one area to the next, define “cool” can be tricky. But it may be helpful to reconsider how we talk about the cold weather, said Phillips, who believe we are all happier when it’s warmer.
“I have the feeling that we like to brag about how warm we – the pioneer spirit still burning – we can mock and deride snowstorm frostbite,” he said. “We go around saying, ‘Is cold enough for you?’ People in other parts of the world do not go around saying, ‘Is hot enough for you? Whether it is wet enough for you? ‘ ”
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