WEST CARLETON – Today’s (Jan. 17) snow is still a far way from being over but is already of the record-breaking variety.
By noon, 41 centimetres (16 inches) had already blanketed the West Carleton countryside. But it isn’t the amount that broke a record earlier today, it was the volume.
Between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. 12 cm fell in one hour – the most in one hour in the Ottawa area since records on per-hour-snowfall started being kept in 2013. This smashed the record set in 2016 of roughly nine cms/hour. That 2016 storm saw 51 cm hit the ground when all was said and done.
Ottawa area weather historian and forecaster Rolf Campbell says, not only did that hour smash an Ottawa record, he has never heard of snow falling at a rate of 12 cms/hour in Canada in his 20 years in the business.
Today is already the snowiest January day in Ottawa in more than 100 years (Jan. 29, 1894) and the snowiest Jan. 17 since records began (1873). And Campbell says it’s not over yet.
“I’m having a great day,” Campbell told West Carleton Online this morning. “I’ve been out shovelling twice already, but that’s part of the joy of it.”
Campbell runs the popular Twitter account (especially popular on days like this – Campbell says he’s gained more than 330 new followers in the last five days when he started predicting today’s storm) Ottawa Weather Records (@YOW_Weather). Rolf also operates a specialized subscriber-based weather website providing detailed weather information and statistics at an hourly clip.
The weather historian says today’s event is “quite rare.”
“While we’ve only tracked hourly snow rates since 2013, there have only been 13 times when we got five cm of snow or more per hour in that time,” Campbell said. “That big storm in 2016 (51 total cm), we had five of those hours of more than five cms/hour. When you think of how many hours there have been since 2013, you can see a day like today is quite rare.”
While we broke a volume per hour record, Campbell doesn’t see this storm bringing more than the 51 cm we received in 2016.
“I don’t think we’re going to get that kind of endurance today,” he said. “We’re already through the worst of it.”
The per hour rate has already dropped from the 12 cms/hour between 8 and 9 a.m., to nine cms/hour between 9 and 10 a.m. to four cms/hour between 10 and 11 a.m.
To put it in context, Campbell says four cm is pretty darn heavy.
“What you get past one cms/hour is heavy snow,” he said. “four cms/hour is very heavy snow.”
Campbell says not only is 12 cms/hour a record for Ottawa, he has never heard of that much anywhere in Canada since 2013.
“I don’t remember anything more than 12 cms/hour anywhere across Canada,” he said. “I’ve seen 11 cms/hour in Fredericton, NB. In Halifax I saw 90 cm in one day, but it never reached 12 cms/hour.”
Campbell says he won’t know if this is a Canadian record until the storm ends and he is able to analyze all the new data and compare it to historical numbers.
“The worst of it is already over, but it is going to be a significant issue all day long,” Campbell said.
He expects today will be the second largest single-day snowfall in “many decades.”
“Its already the biggest in six years,” Campbell said.
But it’s that earlier morning rate, the current generation will be telling their kids about in the years to come.
“That’s what’s going to separate this one,” he said.
The fact today’s weather is in the -6, -7 degree Celsisus range, is also what will keep the road crews hard at work in to tomorrow (Jan. 18). That’s colder than normal for a storm of this magnitude and city crews “can’t keep up.”
Campbell, a long-time Ottawa resident, says this city isn’t designed to handle snowstorms like this and suggests residents take the politician’s advice and just stay home today.
“The infrastructure isn’t prepared for this and that’s by design,” Campbell said. “It’s very expensive to be able to have the kind of infrastructure needed to handle a storm like this. Is it worth it to deal with a storm that only happens every six or seven years? Taxpayers don’t want to pay for that.”
Campbell hopes all this data is enough to keep people at home and out of their cars.
“The average Ottawa driver doesn’t know how to drive on a good day,” Campbell said. “There’s a significant amount of people on the roads that weren’t driving in 2016 (the last time there was a comparable storm). Driving in this weather takes practice. Once every five years isn’t enough practice. I’m staying put.”
Campbell says it is nearly impossible to get accurate numbers for regions like West Carleton, which might have slightly different totals due to its location low to the ground and along the Ottawa River.
That’s due to the lack of tracking that goes on.
There’s only two weather tracking station in Ottawa – one at the experimental farm and one at the airport. And they only track snowfall at the airport, done by the staff of Nav Canada.
“It’s in their job description,” Campbell said.
He says there is also some tracking done in Gatineau, but that staff only works during the day. Campbell says the next tracking station west of the airport is in Kingston.