7 curious things about winter in Canada

Major's Hill Park on a winter day

This is my fifth winter in Ottawa, and fortunately I don’t dread it anymore. When I first landed in Ottawa in the winter of 2018 people told me things that made me fear I wouldn’t be able to put up with the extreme cold.

For example, I heard things like: “you’ll never get used to the winter here”, or “each winter is going to be worse”. Well, the thing is that for me the first winter was surely the worst, and no other winter has been worse than that one.

Luckily, I consider myself to have adapted well to the Canadian winter and am able to enjoy it. I love to walk over fresh snow after a heavy snowfall. I tried tobogganing with my kids and laughed like crazy. I skated the 8 kilometers of the Rideau Canal. I walked on the frozen Ottawa river, and this year I might try downhill skiing.

So, I think I pretty much know by now what winter in Canada is about, and I’ll tell you some of the things that surprised me when I moved to Ottawa, and the things that I have learned about the winter weather in this country.

view of Rideau Canal and a park during a snowfall
View of the Rideau Canal during a snowfall

1. Variable temperatures

It came as a total surprise to me when I moved to Ottawa and found out that the temperatures were completely variable day after day.

I was expecting a stable climate like the one in my hometown, Lima, where you can have the same temperature for weeks; for example 28 degrees in the summer.

But not in Ottawa. Today it can be -10° Celsius, and tomorrow 2° C. The following day -18°C and then -5°C. Like I said, totally variable.

That’s why it’s so important to check the forecast each day before leaving home, in order to know how to dress and add an extra layer if necessary.

2. The wind chill

The temperatures in Canada are extremely cold in winter, but I wasn’t expecting another factor (the wind) that means even more cold! That is, wind chill.

When there’s wind, a cold day can turn into a freezing cold day. The official temperature can be, for instance, -5°C but with the wind chill, it will feel like -13°C.

I hate those windy days in winter! On the contrary, when there’s no wind, a winter day can be pleasant enough to enjoy the outdoors.

3. Snow, rain, hail and flurries

I learned living in Ottawa that winter doesn’t just mean snow or rain. There are other forms of precipitation in between.

One of them is hail, that can be big in other places, but in Ottawa it is like very tiny balls of ice. Another thing is light snow flurries, a sort of fine snow that often disappears in contact with the ground or surfaces.

But the most important thing that I learned here is that the winter weather can be so unpredictable and changing, that you can have, on the very same day, snow, hail and then rain, and after all that, the sun comes up!

Winter in Ottawa is not boring at all!

4. Freezing rain

Did I say that it can rain in the winter? Yes, the weather is so variable that you can have some days with temperatures above zero, and those days you are not going to have snow, but rain.

The problem is that in the evening the temperature drops again below zero, and all that water from the rain freezes on the ground, forming ice.

This is the so-called freezing rain and it means danger because of slippery surfaces. Usually on a freezing rain day, school buses are canceled.

I remember our first winter in Ottawa, my husband cut a big flat chunk of ice that covered our driveway. It was impressive.

5. Strong winds

I hadn’t ever experienced the strong winds that can blow in Ottawa. I remember once how the roof of my house cracked and shook with every gust of wind. That was scary!

Another time, the winds were so strong that the next morning, all the streets looked messy with a lot of boxes, garbage and debris spread all over the road.

6. Sunny days, the coldest

A sunny winter day is awesome! I love the winter scenery on a bright and sunny day. The snow shines under the sun, and the sky looks beautifully blue without clouds.

But the downside of those gorgeous sunny days is that they are the coldest!

It’s characteristic of the Canadian winter. Sunny days and clear skies equal colder days.

view of a street and accumulations of snow

7. Sun dogs

This is a very beautiful and interesting atmospheric phenomenon that usually happens on cold sunny winter mornings.

It happens when ice crystals form and these refract the sun’s rays. What you see is like a rainbow of fire around the sun!

I have witnessed sun dogs twice during my time in Ottawa and they were pretty amazing.

Picture: Flickr

Well, I hope you find interesting these curiosities about the winter in Canada that are totally unknown for a newcomer or immigrant, unless you have traveled to Canada before during the winter.

Do you have any stories about the moody and temperamental Canadian winter? Feel free to share in the comments. Take care.

Happy New Year!

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3 thoughts on “7 curious things about winter in Canada

  1. Once again , thanks for this useful and interesting information. I just wooukd like to ask why the sky turns orange in the evening when Is snowing?

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