December 15, 2008 5:03 pm

Weather across the country is catching people unawares.

Winter hasn’t arrived yet, but try telling that to someone battling -31 C temperatures in Saskatoon.

"There was talk that this was the year that winter was cancelled," said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.

Much of the west was catapulted into winter this weekend with little warning.

"There’s been no moderation, no easing into the cold," said Phillips. "Last month they were in T-shirts on the golf course, now they’re shivering in their boots."

People in Vancouver and Victoria were feeling the brunt of the unseasonable weather, Phillips said Monday. "It’s one thing to get a dump of snow in Toronto or Montreal, but in Victoria, they’re just not equipped for it." He added that the first snowfall is difficult no matter where you happen to live. "You have to learn

to drive again . . . learn how to cope."

"Everyone called in sick today because they couldn’t get to work," said the lone server at Victoria’s Phoenix Bar and Grill. "I’m pretty busy because I’m the only one who made it in."

The 27 centimetres of snow that fell on the B.C. capital over the weekend won’t be melting anytime soon, said Phillips. "They might even have a white Christmas in the west this year," he added.

Folks in the west should hunker down for a long cold spell as the brutal temperatures look like they are sticking around, said Phillips.

Extreme wind chill warnings are in effect across the southern Prairies. In Calgary it was -33 C Monday afternoon, but with wind chill it felt like -47 C; Regina was at -45 C for the third day in a row and Winnipeg was reporting temperatures as low as -41 C. A bitterly cold air mass over Alberta broke records on Sunday night, reported Environment Canada. Banff’s low of -41.8 C broke the previous record, -35 C, set in 1924.

The weather has been much balmier east of the jet stream, which goes up through the middle of Ontario from the U.S., dividing the country into two distinct weather systems, said Phillips.

Temperatures are "as much above normal in Central

Canada as they are below normal in the west," said Phillips on Monday morning.

"In Toronto it’s more like late October than mid-December."

Toronto saw highs of 11 C Monday morning but by mid-afternoon the temperature had plummeted. Montreal was warmer than usual at 7 C Monday afternoon, but Phillips said there will be an "abrupt end" to the unseasonable temperatures east of Ontario, adding that they should be back in normal range by week’s end.

Further east, strong winds and rain battered New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Despite the weather, Gordie’s Pub in downtown Fredericton hasn’t noticed a drop in clientele.

"People are still coming in, the weather’s strange but they’re still here," said the server on duty.

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