By PAT WATSON
Today, March 20 at 12:57 p.m., eastern daylight time, marks the beginning of spring 2014. This day couldn’t have come too soon for those suffering from the heavy hand of the old-fashioned Toronto winter we just survived. For those new to this city, and for those who have been lulled into previous milder October to March winter periods, winter 2013-14 is what it used to be like during winter seasons in decades past.
There might be a few here in this city of immigrants who wax nostalgic about how winter used to be back in the last century, but for the most part Torontonians, whether new or long-timers, are happy to say farewell to the past few blisteringly cold months.
This past (extended) winter season, the city issued 36 extreme cold alerts for overnight temperatures -15 degrees Celsius or lower, and that’s without factoring the wind chill.
There haven’t been this many alerts in the past 10 winters. Moreover, these arctic type temperatures held on for days. At the end of January, we endured an almost 10-day stretch of extreme cold.
With thanks perhaps to the rescue services such as Out of the Cold that go into full operation once the city issues a cold weather alert, there was only one person who had been living on Toronto streets whose death was attributed to this severe winter.
The amount of snow that fell and the excessive number of days of -15 C and below was but a mere annoyance compared to that very special Christmas ice storm that left half a million without electricity in Toronto alone and consequently without heating in their homes for days on end. There’s nothing like seeing your breath turn to frost while inside one’s once safe haven.
More of us are beginning to understand the Canadian practice popular among the retirement age set of taking off, like Canadian geese, as fall edges into winter each year.
Perhaps those of the avian set, like the ducks and swans that normally remain here for the winter and those species of arctic birds for whom Toronto is far enough south, will change their pattern in future winters and just keep going south. If that should happen, we should consider their migration pattern as fair warning.
While this winter showered us with extremes, climatologists conclude that what we have just lived through is another telling indication of ongoing climate change. Wind patterns that would cause temperature troughs to move along in a matter of a day of so, are changing so that weather systems stay in place for longer periods. We have just lived through that.
It may be best then to make the most of enjoying spring, because if the temperature-stalling pattern of this last winter continues into the summer, we will be languishing under still, hot, hazy and humid air for extended stretches.
Living in our somewhat climate controlled urban environment here in Toronto means that, where climate is concerned, we are not immediately aware for the most part of what is truly happening across the planet. Nevertheless, extremes are becoming more apparent and cannot be forever overlooked. We cannot be sure, for all our modern technology that we will not fall victim to Mother Nature’s revenge, whether by way of extreme heat, cold or, as in the case of California over the past few months, extreme drought.
So, let’s welcome the respite that is spring, one of the most beautiful times of the year. Spring promises renewal. Birds are returning – there have already been sightings of robins. The early spring crocuses will soon give us colours one the ground and the fragrant blossoms of fruit trees are not far off.
Of course, we will have to live through April first, it being what poet T.S. Eliot referred to as “the cruelest month”.
A note on Toronto’s municipal elections…
When was the last time that municipal elections in Toronto, more specifically the contenders for the office of mayor, took on such spectacle? As of this week, close to 40 candidates have registered to run for mayor. We already know the big names, but it’s worth a look (http://app.toronto.ca/vote/candidateListAll.do) to see who else cares enough about a vision for this city to throw their hat into the ring.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.