Dec. 28 and 29, 1996 are days most Victorians will never forget.
On those days 19 years ago, a total of 124 centimetres (48.8 inches) of snow fell on Victoria, setting an all time record.
The snow shut down the city and the army was called in to help dig out. Roofs collapsed and tree branches succumbed to the weight, causing widespread power outages throughout the region. Many were left stunned to see so much of the white stuff in a place that isn’t known for snow. It was the biggest snowstorm in 100 years.
Weather experts say it could happen again, but nothing has come close since then. According to Environment Canada Meteorologist Lisa Coldwells, the last major snowfall in Victoria was seven years ago when 35 cm fell on Dec. 21, 2008. Six days prior, the city received 13.6 cm of snow. Another 13.2 cm fell on Christmas Eve.
The last significant snowfall was in January 2014 when 20.6 cm floated down on the region, followed by two more snow days in February that had 13.6 cm, then another 16.7 cm on the ground.
Looking to the new year, Coldwells predicts there’s a very slim chance Victorians will see any of the white stuff this winter.
“To get snow, we have to have a combination of that cold air outflowing from the interior and the next Pacific rain storm coming in from the west,” she said, noting the coldest temperature ever recorded in Victoria was -15.6C on Jan. 28, 1950.
“It’s always a battle of who’s going to win? Does the cold air win and then the warm air rides over top or is there enough warm air and south westerly winds to push that cold air back into the mountains?”
Weather experts are expecting this year to be an extreme one with the arrival of La Nina and El Nino — a natural ocean temperature phenomenon that results in warmer than average coastal waters near the equator that move towards South America’s northern coast, then turn as far north as Haida Gwaii and Alaska.
Because the waters are warmer, levels are higher due to thermal expansion. Even the average winter storm can have a greater impact because of the higher ocean levels.
Coldwells, however, doesn’t expect to see the effects of El Nino until mid to late winter.
Up Island, the snow gods have been kind to skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts at Mount Washington. Since the beginning of December, the ski resort has received more than 300 cm of snow, making the Christmas season the snowiest in the past several years.
For the first time in two years, the resort recently opened its Outback terrain of 400 acres, which is designated as black diamond and double black diamond. The resort has also opened 55 km of Nordic trails and a tubing park.
“It’s a winter wonderland out here,” said resort spokesperson Sheila Rivers.