Most people equate Canada with snow and cold temperature. Because of its location north of the Equator, it does experience cold weather. However, because of its size, it has many different climates. Just imagine, its southern border lies in the same latitude as sunny northern California, while its northern border is near the frigid arctic.
First things first, is “climate” the same as “weather”?
You may hear climate and weather being used interchangeably. But climate is not the same as weather. Climate is the description of the long-term pattern of weather in a particular area. You can say that it is the average weather for a particular region and time period (usually 30 years). Weather, on the other hand, is the way the atmosphere is behaving over a short period of time. We think of it in terms of temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, brightness, visibility, wind, and atmospheric pressure. So we can say for example that the weather today in Winnipeg is cloudy with a chance of rain. But the prairies have a dry climate in general.
Canada’s climatic regions/zones
As mentioned, Canada has varied climates. What you will be experiencing depends on where you are in Canada at a particular time:
Pacific Maritime – This region has the most temperate climate compared to the other regions of Canada. It covers British Columbia’s west coast and its border with the Yukon Territory on the way to Alaska. Because of its nearness to the Pacific Ocean, it has mild winters and cool summers. Areas along the coastline experience a lot of rain.
Southeastern Lowlands – This is the area where most Canadians live. The Southern Lowlands is from Southern to Eastern Ontario and into Eastern and Southern Quebec. It includes Toronto and other urban centres like Montreal and the capital, Ottawa. Summers are warm and humid averaging 21-26 °C. Winters are cold, with temperatures averaging between -6 to -12 °C along with ice and snow. The level of rain in this area is stable all year round.
Prairies – This is Western Canada, comprised of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It has a Continental climate with warm and humid conditions in the summer and dry and cold winters. Rain is common in spring and early summer months. Of the three provinces, Manitoba is the most humid as it receives more rainfall. Average temperatures in summer is 12 to 26 °C and -12 to -22°C in winter.
Atlantic –This region covers the Maritime Provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. The entire Atlantic Maritime region experiences relatively cool and moderate temperatures in summer with average July temperatures of 18 °C. Winters are mild and long with January mean temperatures between -2.5 °C and -10 °C. Its closeness to the Atlantic Ocean causes a humid environment and consistent rains.
Cordilleran – This region extends from the South of British Columbia to the north of the Yukon Territory. It experiences varied climatic conditions because of its mountains and valleys. Its temperature differs by elevation. Summers can range from warm to hot, rainy and breezy with cool evenings. Winters can be cool to very cold, with rain in the southern valley areas and snow at the higher elevations. In general, the climate is similar to that of Northwestern United States (North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming).
Boreal – This region is from Southern Labrador; certain areas within Newfoundland’s interior and along its northern coast; the Jamésie, Côte-Nord and far southern Nunavik region of Quebec; far northern Ontario; the northern Prairie Provinces; much of the Yukon and most of the Northwest Territories. Boreal climate has long and usually very cold winters and short summers that are cool and mild. However, it also has some of the most extreme seasonal temperature variations in the country. Temperatures in winter can go as low as -40 °C, and in summer to more than 30°C. It usually has 5-7 months of below freezing average temperature. It has very short summers lasting no more than three months of the year.
Taiga – This covers much of inland Canada (Northwoods), which is Canada’s coniferous forests of pines, spruces and larches. It is known for its long and cold winters that go on for more than six months. The Taiga region also experiences a subarctic climate with large temperature ranges between seasons. But its long and cold winters is the dominant characteristic of this climatic region.
Arctic – This region can be found far north of the country close to the Arctic Ocean. It includes most of Nunavut as well as northern parts of the Northwest Territories and Quebec. It has long, harsh winters, lasting ten months or more. It also has short, cool summers experienced from one to three months. Because the Arctic and other bodies of water near it are frozen, chance of rain is low. This region is basically a cold desert.
So is Canada really the coldest country in the world?
We can say that we are tied with Russia for this title. It is estimated that Canada has an average daily temperature of -5.6 °C. This is cold. So if you’re headed here and are planning to stay for the long haul, better be prepared for the cold climate. Don’t worry, the warm welcome you will receive more than makes up for the cold!
Sources: Climate, Marie Sanderson, The Canadian Encyclopedia; 10 strange facts about Canada’s climate, CBC; Climate-Your Canada; What’s the difference between weather and climate? Rob Gutro, NASA; Land and climate, Canada.ca; and The weather and climate in Canada, Study country.com. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
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