Ontario just lived through one of the darkest winters in more than 80 years

Published March 15, 2023 4:44 p.m. ET

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A person works inside a business as snow falls outside in Ottawa, on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

If you found yourself pining for some sunshine in Ontario in recent months, it’s likely because the province just lived through one of the darkest winter seasons in nearly a century.

According to solar energy data by The European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMRF), parts of Ontario saw lower levels of solar energy between December 2022 and February 2023 than previously recorded in the last 83 years, or since 1940.

The lack of sun was noticed by a climatologist with the Alaska Region of the United States National Weather Service, Brian Brettschneider, while reviewing the ECMRF’S dataset.

“I just basically wanted to see how much solar energy we got this winter, and so that drove me to make this map,” Brettschneider told CTV News Toronto Wednesday.

The maps reflect solar deviations, which are measurements used to describe how much solar energy a region is getting compared to what is typical in that area.

Within Brettschneider’s maps, areas in the black zones, such as Tobermory, Collingwood, the Manitoulin region, Prince Edward County, and the area of eastern Lake Ontario, all saw the most drastic lack of solar energy in Ontario this winter.

The worst month for lack of solar energy in Ontario was January, Brettschneider said.

“December was actually pretty typical, and February was below normal, but January was exceptionally low,” he said.

During the first weeks of January, the Greater Toronto Area went without a sunny day for more than two weeks, according to The Weather Network. London, Ont. went without a sunny day from Dec. 4, 2022, to Jan 8, 2023, the agency added.

Brettschneider said periods without sun, such as the one experienced by Ontario in January, can have a psychological impacts.

"Having some sunshine tends to greatly improve people's moods and so without that sunshine in many locations, it contributed to a sense of dreariness this winter," he said.


According to Brettschneider, Ontario’s unusually dark winter occurred due to a number of factors.

“Some years, large-scale atmospheric patterns can [be] blocked from moving with very much speed,” he explained. This year, he said, Ontario saw a prolonged blocking period where an area of high pressure remained over the eastern part of the lower 48 United States.

“The flow around that was clockwise, and that sent lots of moisture and cloud coverage toward the Great Lakes region,”he said. “That meant, with all those clouds, there was not much solar activity compared to typical years.”


As Ontario hurtles towards spring, warmer temperatures and sunny days are in the forecast.

The Greater Toronto Area is set to see a number of spring-like days at the start of next week. Monday and Tuesday are both forecast to be sunny and 5 C, according to Environment Canada.

The first day of spring is March 20, but residents won’t be able to say goodbye to winter weather for good just yet.

According to The Farmer’s Almanac, southern Ontario and the Great Lakes area will face snow and slushy weather into early April. In mid-to-late April, the province should expect more showers than usual alongside periods of stormy weather, the forecast predicts. 

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