Warm, wet February in Hamilton is historically notable


Published March 1, 2023 at 1:08 pm

An unusally warm Feb. 14, and two chaotic winter storms less than a week apart, contributed to Hamilton experiencing one of its warmest and wettest Februarys.

Higher temperatures caused by human-made climate change generally allow the air to hold more water, which can increase the amount and intensity of snow, rain and ice pellets. Lack of ice cover and warmer water temperatures in Lake Ontario, which Hamilton is located at the western tip of, also puts the city more at risk of heavy snowfalls when winds out of the southeast pass over the lake as air gathers moisture.

In line with that, Hamilton, per weather historian Rolf Campbell, had its warmest February in 66 years, dating to 1957, based on the number of days with plus temperatures above OC. It also had the second-most days with rain in February on record.

The temperature rose above OC on 23-of-28 days in the month, which is surpassed only by 1957 (24) and 1877, 1882, and 1954 (three-way tie at 25). That came on the heels of Hamilton having historically high January humidity. There were also a record-tying 17 days in a row with plus temperatures, from Feb. 5 to 21.

The streak ended with the storm the following day (Feb. 22), which touched off the city’s snowiest six-day stretch in four years. Some 30.1 cm of the white stuff fell between 12 a.m. last Wednesday and 11:59 p.m. on Monday (Feb. 27).

There were 12 days of rain, which is tied for second all-time with 2016 and is only one shy of the record 13 in 1981.

One knock-on effect of climate change is stress on public infrastructure, such as the hydro grid and transit. Anyone scrolling through Twitter on Tuesday, the day after 12 cm of snow fell, could probably find numerous beefs about snow removal and outages.

But on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, the recorded high was 8.9C, which was the warmest recorded on that date in Hamilton in 69 years. The following day, the temperature got up to 15.1C, which was also a nearly 70-year high. The temperature reached 10C by 7 a.m. that day, meaning it was already one of the city’s warmest Feb. 15s before many residents had even started their day.

Back in January, per Campbell, the mean hourly humidity in the city was 87.1 per cent. The only January on record where it was higher was in 1998, the year that the a major North American ice storm that struck eastern Ontario, southern Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Last spring, the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo released a report that indicated the Hamilton area is second only to Windsor, Ont., for being at risk due to extreme heat among cities in Canada.

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