Ever heard of a Polar Vortex, El Niño or La Niña? They’re words I’ve heard of, but until now, not really known the meaning of.
As we landed in Canada on our snowboarding holiday, we expected more snow. We came here last year and the snow was incredible, it was the powdery snow skiers and snowboarders dream of and apparently here in Fernie, it was pretty much nailed on to be the same every year, because on average they get up to 37 feet of snow falling every year.
After much deliberation and a need to see the incredible scenery again, we went back this year too, mainly because there was so much more to explore around this fabulous mountain range and so they say there, the conditions would be more or less nailed on, right? Or so we and many more keen skiers and boarders there thought, but then Fernie wasn’t expecting a Polar Vortex and La Niña effect.
As we arrived, after a three hour drive to London and an eight hour flight, the first thing we noticed, apart from the -30 freezing cold air which smacked us in the face as we stepped out of the airport in Calgary, was the lack of the white powdery stuff as we began the three and half hour transfer to Fernie. We were nodding in and out of consciousness, our eyes and ears barely able to function, but vaguely remember the driver of our mini bus talking excitedly about a Polar Vortex thingy. We didn’t take much notice of what he was saying at the time because all we could think of was dumping our bags and finding a bed.
The next morning for us started at 4:30am, oh yeah that wonderful jet lag. We were wide awake and raring to go, sat in bed having a cup of tea, turning the TV on to see what the Canadian news had to say whilst waiting for the sun to rise so that we could get our snowboarding gear on and hit the slopes.
The news seemed to be all about the weather and how cold it was, but wasn’t that normal for Canada? Well apparently not this cold…
We kept hearing the words Polar Vortex – extreme cold conditions, El Niño and La Niña so I took to good ‘ol Google…
So what is a Polar Vortex?
The short answer, thanks to SciJinks…
“A polar vortex is a low pressure area—a wide expanse of swirling cold air—that is parked in polar regions. During winter, the polar vortex at the North Pole expands, sending cold air southward”. [SciJinks]
I read that, apparently the polar vortex had weakened and had become a little more ‘wavy’, throwing down a lot more frigid cold air than normal along it’s jet stream. There’s an interesting report I found, by professor Richard Rood Here, which is well worth a read.
El Niño and La Niña
Thanks to the National Ocean Service website I began to understand what El Niño, (meaning little boy in Spanish) and La Niña, (meaning little girl in Spanish) were all about although I was getting confused a few times. Basically, they are complex weather patterns formed from different temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.
“El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The ENSO cycle is a scientific term that describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific (approximately between the International Date Line and 120 degrees West)”.
“La Niña is sometimes referred to as the cold phase of ENSO and El Niño as the warm phase of ENSO. These deviations from normal surface temperatures can have large-scale impacts not only on ocean processes, but also on global weather and climate”.
“El Niño and La Niña episodes typically last nine to 12 months, but some prolonged events may last for years. While their frequency can be quite irregular, El Niño and La Niña events occur on average every two to seven years. Typically, El Niño occurs more frequently than La Niña”. [National Ocean Service]
It seems most of the Northwest, during the time before we landed and for most of the ten days we were there experienced the flip from the warmer effects of El Nino to the colder effects of La Niña, where the Southeast were experiencing it’s warmer, (extremely hot) effects.
All I know is, it was blooming freezing during our ten days in Fernie, between -26/-30℃ most days although getting slightly warmer during the latter few days and I’ve personally never experienced anything as cold. There were signs posted around the resort everywhere warning about the risks of frostbite and believe me, we took note because as soon as a tiny amount of skin was exposed, we felt the burn! Unfortunately, La Nina and her colder than normal temperatures are not good if you’ve come to the area for snow, because it was actually too cold to snow, bringing mainly ice, meaning the skiing/snowboarding conditions weren’t great, it was ok up on the higher parts of the mountain, but just not the powder we were expecting.
As the last couple of days became a little warmer, nature thankfully gave us the powder we were expecting. We were quite excited when the snow finally fell and had an absolute ball, boarding all day and enjoying every minute on our last two days in Fernie.
The staff there in Fernie did their best when it came to keeping the pistes groomed during the icy days, but in such extreme conditions they were even having to close some of the chair lifts to the higher (more fun) areas because of the extreme dangers of cold to both people and the functioning of the chair lifts. There was no off piste skiing or boarding this year because the snow was quite hard and compacted.
During the icy days where we couldn’t spend too long on the mountain, we sampled the good food and beverages Fernie had to offer and spent more time venturing into town exploring, we even enjoyed a walk around the museum and learnt a thing or two about the history of Fernie, including fires, floods, mining catastrophes and even a curse.
Don’t get me wrong, we still had a wonderful time in Fernie, it’s such a beautiful place, the scenery around the Canadian Rockies is just indescribable and although we were a little unlucky to be there while La Nina was visiting, throwing us ice instead of fluffy snow, we couldn’t get upset over something we had no control over, so we made the most of the other things Fernie had to offer and enjoyed a more leisurely ten days than planned 🙂
Would we go again? Yes, definitely!
Whilst learning about the polar vortex, (particularly Prof. Richard Rood’s interesting report) and our global changes in weather while personally experiencing the extreme cold conditions there in Canada, and at the same time hearing about the uncomfortable heatwaves others had been experiencing in other parts of the world, did make me think more about the worrying subject of our earths climate change. Over the past few years there is evidence that the Ozone layer has started to recover slowly and if we carry on listening to scientific knowledge and looking after and doing our bit for our planet, it may recover totally. Let’s hope hey?
Has anyone else experienced such extreme weather conditions where you live or while on holiday?
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