Giver of Cold Fronts Finally Cries Uncle

Esther Winter in a superfrigid Canadian town welcomes a -13 F day

NO stranger to the cold, Esther Winter (her real name) is one of about 500 residents of Mayo, a Yukon town 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle, who would like a little warmth for a change.

It's only halfway through the winter. But as a seemingly endless cold spell meanders down from the Arctic into the Midwest and Eastern United States, even hardy Canadians like Ms. Winter are getting frosty as they yearn for something toastier.

"Normally we're out ice fishing in January, doing a lot of snowmobiling and cross-country skiing," Ms. Winter told the Monitor in a phone interview. "But you can't do any of that in this temperature ... Our cars are frozen, they just aren't designed for these temperatures."

This winter Mayo has the distinction of being one of the coldest communities on the planet, Canadian meteorologists say. Temperatures at night hit a low of about -58 degrees F (-50 C) for three consecutive weeks in January.

"Mayo was colder than a lot of places in Siberia whose names I can't possibly pronounce," says Michael Schaffer, a government meteorologist at White Horse, Yukon (200 miles south of Mayo), where it was 10 degrees warmer.

Ms. Winter reports Mayo's cold snap did finally appear to break a few days ago when things warmed to a balmy -13 F (-25 C).

"When it's as cold as it was, you have to wear a scarf and a ski mask over your face," she says. "But now I'm back to wearing my regular shoes and the heavy boots are back in the closet."

Unfortunately, the cold air "core" leaving Mayo has now dropped down from northern Canada to southern Ontario and much of the US. The cold should "remain entrenched on the eastern seaboard until about midweek, when we and the Americans should start seeing warmer air," says Wade Szilagyi, a government meteorologist based in Toronto.

Meanwhile, normally nattily dressed business people in Calgary are foregoing fashion for un-chic parkas and heavy boots. And in Winnipeg, where the wind chill reached -49 F this weekend, residents who typically exult in harsh winter weather, also lobbied for a warm spell soon.

"If it stays this cold we might have to cancel the Snowman Triathalon next week," worries David Soufi, a spokesman for the department of recreation. The triathalon involves skating, cross-country skiing, and running.

Beside threatening triathalon tradition, the biggest problem the cold poses for Winnipeg - or any other place where the temperature reaches -40 F and colder - is "ice fog" - or exhaust spewed from cars that freezes instantly to produce a ground-level fog that reduces visibility.

There hasn't been any "ice fog" in southern Ontario, where it isn't quite as cold as Winnipeg - just 6 F. But even in this near tropical climate, supplies of natural gas have been running lower than usual, gas company officials say. But they deny rumors of a coming heating-fuel shortage as false.

While snow was falling on full flower beds in Vancouver this weekend, "northern spring peeper" tree frogs in Nova Scotia were bearing the brunt of a quickly reversed warming trend that may have clobbered many of them.

"The peepers woke up last week because it got warm (about 35 degrees F) for several days - and their life cycle is based directly on temperature," says Sue Brown, head of "Frogwatch," a research project at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. "Some of them apparently began marching across roads." Alas, the cold struck back in Nova Scotia - and any peepers that didn't get back underground are frozen solid now, laments Ms. Brown.

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