Weather in Canada on the East Coast: Myth versus Reality

I’m pretty sure most of you have heard the jokes about weather in Canada. Having lived there for almost 2 years I think I can honestly say most of the myths about Canadian weather are just exaggerations. See, I didn’t say they’re complete lies lies, as there’s a seed of truth in every lie, but if weather is the thing stopping you from visiting the home of the maple syrup then you might want to read on to see what I have to say.

First off, I want to make it clear that I lived only in Halifax, on the East Coast of Nova Scotia province. And I had a short experience with weather in Toronto in May, so I can’t speak about my first hand experience with the weather condition in Vancouver (the West Coast) or the weather in GTA (Greater Toronto Area, not the popular computer game), but I’ll let you know what Canadians say about these two regions.

Everybody Talks About the Weather

If you only stay a few days in Canada you probably won’t notice it, but small talk almost always starts with something about the weather. It’s a conversation starter in Canada and everyone does it. It’s also a sign that weather is among the top annoyances in Canada, since there’s not much else to be worried about.

That’s not to say everything is great in the Canadian society and economy, but people are generally less stressed out than Europeans, or at least that’s was the case with haligonians (people living in Halifax).

The Canadian Winter

Everyone who hasn’t lived in Canada fears local winters. If you’re living there you know the worst part is the duration, not the intensity. In Halifax temperatures start to go below 10 degrees Celsius in the second half of October and do go above 10, constantly, starting with May.

Winter in Canada doesn't look that bad with Christmas decorations, eh?
Winter in Canada doesn’t look that bad with Christmas decorations, eh?

When temperatures dipped below freezing they stayed mostly in the single digit area, with gusting winds dropping the real feel to something like -15 degrees. When it snowed, usually temperatures didn’t go below -10 degrees, which is really OK. And it didn’t snow that often, maybe two, three months a year, without extreme snowfalls.

Typical snow in Halifax
Typical snow in Halifax

Despite that, snow storm alarms are a common thing in the winter, but the reality is that 5-10 centimeters of snow are not what you would call an emergency, as you can here. Probably the local authorities in Nova Scotia are just being careful.

The rest of the time you had to deal with the wind, the rain, or both. It wasn’t uncommon for winds to lift up your shopping bags, so yeah, sometimes weather conditions were pretty bad in Halifax. But if you own a car and you’re not afraid to use it these things won’t affect you much.

Beautiful, right? Look at the grass leaning in the wind
Beautiful, right? Look at the grass leaning in the wind

The main problem was that weather like this lasted months in a row, months in which the sun didn’t make much of an appearance. And that takes a toll on your spirit. I didn’t believe it before actually experiencing it.

The worst weather of course is in the northern part of Canada. Here temperatures can get very low and stay there for the most part of the year. And by low I mean -30 to -40 degrees and even less. That’s why the inhabited part of Canada is a thin line near the border with USA, with small exceptions in the white north.

Weather Variations Throughout Canada

The summer is short in Nova Scotia, but is the best weather possible, with temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees during the day and slightly lower during the evening, but still OK if you’re wearing a jacket. It’s the perfect time to be outside and even take a dip in the Atlantic cold water, if you can handle it. It does rain in the summer in Halifax, but not as often as the rest of the year.

That’s the weather on the East Coast, contrasting with Vancouver, where rain reigns throughout the spring and autumn, but temperatures are usually higher, with milder winters. The rest of British Columbia exhibits less rain, as Vancouver is more of an anomaly because of its oceanic climate.

One moment it's foggy at the beach...
One moment it’s foggy at the beach…

Some people say it rains too much in Vancouver and weather changes rapidly, but I had the same experience in Halifax and Toronto, so I’m guessing sudden weather changes are characteristic to Canadian weather. That’s why on TV there’s a big focus on weather conditions, as the local weather report broadcasts were sent very often and included data from various weather stations and offices.

... and then the sun shows up
… and then the sun shows up

From what I gathered, in the Toronto area winters are worse than in Nova Scotia (see the 2014 ice storm) and summers exhibit higher temperatures. The difference is that warm weather starts sooner, so less winter to experience.

These variations are normal in a country the size of Canada, which is only smaller than Russia, but one thing remains constant: you’ll always see people dressed very optimistic, compared to the outside weather. That’s just something Canadians do, since they’re used to the cold and are not afraid of it.

Keep in Mind Before Heading Outside

What I’m writing in the next few lines is probably common sense to all of you, but maybe it’s best to say them out loud. Before stepping outside check the weather forecast, especially if you know you’ll be gone for a few hours. Check the TV or your phone (ask Siri or Google Now).

If you’re going to drive a long distance you need to be prepared in case it snows a lot and you get stuck on the road. Canadian authorities are very well prepared for the winter, but don’t expect miracles: it might take them a few hours to clear the road. That’s why it is a good idea to pack something to eat and water, take a blanket or two in the trunk and, very important, make sure your tank is full because the best way to stay warm is keep the engine running. And if authorities say you should stay inside and don’t venture on long trips maybe you should listen to them.

The rainbow after the rain
The rainbow after the rain

So there you have it: weather in Canada is not as extreme as believed in the populated areas of the country. As you head north on the map you will be progressively surrounded by white snow, but you probably won’t get close if you’re sticking with visiting only the touristic areas of Canada. And of course, if you’re coming in the winter season pack warm clothes.

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