TORONTO — February has already been a month of extremes, and with a winter storm on the way in Toronto this week, it is still full of surprises.
It’s been a shock to many, lulled by a warmer than usual winter that has caused many to think snow was a thing of the past. It is not just people who have enjoyed the balmy weather, also wildlife.
“Things like white-tailed deer and rabbits have a very easy go of it this year,” said Gord MacPherson, Associate Director, Habitat Restoration, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.
This month’s up and downs have been so unusual, even those who know weather best have been caught a little off guard.
“I’ve been in this business a half a century and I’ve never seen a February like this year,” said David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, adding that Feb. 3 was 16 C while Feb. 14 saw record lows.
“Over 175 years of records there’s never been a warmer day and then we had the coldest in 22 years on Valentine’s Day,” said Phillips.
Phillips said El Niño is to blame for the yoyoing of temperatures.
It blows warm air in, but the second it lets up, the cold air from the north zips back in the vacuum.
Overall though, El Niño has meant a warmer than usual winter and relief for water birds, many of which died over the last two winters.
“Certainly the last two years had a terrible impact on water birds in particular because the great lakes froze over almost entirely,” said Nathalie Karvonen, executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre.
Unexpectedly, the warmer winter may prove costly for raccoons.
Those impacted by the deadly distemper epidemic are not succumbing to the to the contagious disease as quickly as in extreme cold.
“Because they are managing to survive they are very contagious and are managing to infect other animals as well, ” said Karvonen.
Wildlife isn’t just impacted by the temperature but also by how much snow covers the ground.
“Some animals rely on heavy snow cover to protect themselves so this year without the snow cover its brutal for field mice and small mammals because the raptors can see them,” said MacPherson.
We aren’t out of the woods yet, there is still plenty of winter to go, and this week we may get a harsh reminder of that.
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