The Snowmobiling Winter Weather Forecast 2023/2024

It's that time of year again! Experts and animals are abuzz with projections for the winter ahead. After weighing the signs and data, Jeff McGirr brings you the breakdown of what to expect in Ontario this sledding season.

As the leaves fall and the air turns crisp, the heart of every snowmobiler begins to race with anticipation. Winter in Ontario is a season like no other, transforming the landscape into a snowy wonderland just waiting to be explored by snowmobile.  With snow-cloaked forests, frozen lakes, and a network of OFSC trails that crisscross this vast province connecting communities, Ontario offers a winter wonderland that is nothing short of paradise for snowmobile enthusiasts. In this article, we'll delve into the much-anticipated, 11-years-running snowmobilers' winter prediction for Ontario, providing you with valuable insights and exciting prospects for the upcoming snowmobiling season. Whether you're a seasoned rider or a newbie eager to experience the thrill of gliding over the white, powdery trails, gear up as we uncover what Mother Nature has in store for snowmobilers in Ontario.

a line of three people on snowmobiles riding down a snowy trail, a snow covered wooden bridge and green spruce trees behind them.
A new snowmobile season is on its way!

Dedicated to Wild & Countryside

There’s no one else I know more dedicated to spending time outdoors than Back Roads Bill Steer; as the founder of the CEC, exploration master, and journalist among many other specialties, he’s a trusted source of winter predictions year after year — even if I don’t agree with all of them!

Bill Steer wearing a black jacket and pants, standing next to a large sign tnat says "Welcome to the Geographic Centre of Ontario". The ground is snowy and the sky is blue.
 Back Roads Bill Steer, tellin' it like he sees it.

At the time of writing this prediction, it was 28 degrees and sunny, and I caught Bill between teaching and paddling. He had this to say:

Bill:  "Throughout Ontario, during those last two weeks of September, we had a spate of oh-so-warm weather. But that is a bit of a ruse. In late August I predicted an early start to winter. This might be good for snowmobilers. This summer the songbirds left way too early, the Canada geese seemed to be in a hurry as they were seen high in the sky, that’s what Gord told me. 'High in the sky they’re in a hurry…low…no rush to get to where they are wintering.' And those ground wasps were in a frenzy, it seemed they were preparing for an early change."

— An item of debate each year between Bill and I is always where the warm-to-cold or rain-to-snow line will form. I continued to question Bill on his thoughts for this winter:

Bill:  "With climate change though, by latitude, this might mean freezing rain but the further north you go snow is on the way. Blooming wildflowers seemed to be ahead by two weeks or so and people with vegetable gardens said the same. And I have seen an increase in roadkill, the animals, unfortunately, are moving."

— Inconclusive, but we’ll dive into the “rain/snow line” later in this article; I asked Bill for the hard truth, begging for his prediction based on his Mattawa River wild expeditions. Bill reported:

Bill: "Now the other three parts our snow enthusiasts may not like. Winter will be mild, with not so much snow, with an early spring. Those beaver friends of mine, they tell all. It is all about their lodges and feed beds. Gord would say “Look at the amount of mud” and “the size of those alder feed beds.” Well, not much mud and the beavers have not been in a rush to increase the size of their winter foraging. So there."

While I’m grateful for years of valuable insight, I’m a snow-loving fanatic and am still skeptical of his final prediction. I turned my attention to the two-century-old Farmers Almanac for more insights into what the Winter of 2023-2024 will bring to Ontario. You’ll find my summary of their predictions here, as they pertain to what will impact sledders. If you want to know when to bring in your tomato plants you can click here.

A map of Canada from the Farmer's Almanac, reading "2023-24 Winter Outlook: the Brrrrrrrr is Back!"
For Ontario, the Farmers' Almanac is predicting the cold we need.

The Almanac is going with the catchphrase  “the BRRR is BACK” and I like it. After all, we need good cold to freeze up the swamps and lakes — it’s a critical part of a good snowmobile season. They predict that Northwestern Ontario will see very cold temperatures which bodes well for sledders thinking of doing the NWOSTA loop. Meanwhile, the Great Lakes region will see the highest levels of precipitation, with further warnings of significant weather events that will bring mixed snow-rain and everything in between. The Almanac does hint that winter could go out like a lion with the possibility of a white-bunny easter for Ontario — a wonderful sign for riding the Northern Corridor and beyond.

Calculations & Impacts

On September 14th, 2023 the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Diagnostic Discussion issued by the Climate Prediction Centre anticipated El Niño through the Northern Hemisphere winter, with a greater than 95% chance during the period of January through March 2024. Analysis of the model predictions of ENSO from September 2023 indicates that all models point towards El Niño and, further, a strong El Niño peak should occur between November and January. You can visually learn more in this video. Note that for the last three winters, we’ve been in a La Niña and you read more about the differences here if you’re curious.

What Does This Mean?

El Niño can have a significant impact on Ontario's weather during the winter months, but it's important to understand that its effects can vary from one El Niño event to another. El Niño typically brings about changes in atmospheric circulation patterns that can influence winter weather conditions. Here are some of the typical impacts of El Niño on Ontario's winter weather:

One of the most common effects is a tendency toward milder and wetter winter conditions. Warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean can disrupt the normal atmospheric circulation patterns, leading to a stronger southern branch of the jet stream. In many El Niño winters, some parts of Ontario may experience reduced snowfall, particularly in the southern regions. Higher temperatures and rain events can melt snow and limit snow accumulation.

El Niño tends to bring milder winter temperatures to Ontario. While it doesn't necessarily eliminate cold snaps or snowstorms, it can lead to more frequent periods of above-average temperatures during the winter months. This can result in overall less severe cold and more mixed precipitation events in comparison to a good old-fashioned winter. The milder and wetter conditions associated with El Niño can increase the likelihood of freezing rain and ice storms in some parts of Ontario but also mean big gargantuan snow events in others.

It's important to note that not all El Niño events have the same impact on Ontario's winter weather. The strength and duration of each El Niño event have a big impact on the activation of the Polar Vortex over much of Ontario. Notably, Northern Ontario can experience different effects than Southern Ontario during El Niño events. While the south may see milder and wetter conditions, northern areas might still experience colder temperatures and significant snowfall. 

A map showing the flow of El Nino over North America
The influence of El Niño could lead to an interesting winter.

Doug & Ryan

This article wouldn’t be complete without contributions from real experts in the field.  I’ve referenced Senior Meteorologist Doug Gillham before, and his fall weather forecast is important. You can check out the full report here. 

In short, Doug notes that we will see winter signs in October. However, for November and even December, it's expected that we will see a “rather mild weather pattern.”

With 1.6 million subscribers on YouTube and some of the best weather videos, Ryan Hall, Y’all is my go-to source for both as-it-happens weather events and prediction information for all seasons. His video about El Niño and ocean conditions got almost 10 million views and points to a very interesting winter for North America.

My Prediction

Rain/Snow Line

I’m going to put it right on the front: there isn’t going to be a stationary line this winter. It will be volatile with big swings leaving much uncertainty. You will recall on Thanksgiving weekend that we experienced our first taste of this, and it’s a good example of how things are going to go. A few days before Turkey Day it was hot and warm, then snow and in mid-October we were back to normal seasonable temperatures — expect the same volatility over the next several months, pulling the snow/rain line along on an undulating ride.

This means that while in some areas there will be terrifying snow-melting rain, others will see big snow. That said, yes: a few of us will always be stuck in the middle, peering out the window every 10 minutes, watching & praying for the rain to turn to snow.

Ryan talks about this in his video, that severe weather is more active due to increased southern storm tracks and significant temperature swings. Some of us will remember the January 1998 ice storm in Eastern Ontario and Quebec.

two snowmobiles facing a sunrise with storm clouds rolling in, on a snowy forest trail
March 29th, 2023 Timmins, Ontario

How Long Will This Winter Last?

Without a doubt, one of the most challenging elements of the winter forecast is trying to hypothesize how long winter will be. It’s of great challenge as Ontario is massive, and the same cannot be said for all areas. So, I’ve broken it down:

Southern Ontario — An early start, white holiday season thanks to the Lake Effect snow machine, but plagued by unseasonably warm events and potential for severe weather.

Central Ontario — A rollercoaster of weather that will test sledder patience early on, however a solid 8 weeks of riding once we lock-in.

Northern Ontario — Cold to get going is just what we wanted. In mid and late winter, watch out for big snow events which will be perfect for plenty of March and even April riding– book now for Easter 2024.

A map of Ontario labelled North, central and South
The winter could affect each region of Ontario a little differently.

Living Outside

I always put a great emphasis on the natural information indicators Bill provides and also my observations, then combine them with Almanac multi-century wisdom to formulate this section. It seems we’re collectively in for an “early” winter start; that being before mid-January. The hives are high off the ground, which suggests big snow, but the beavers don’t seem to agree (at least yet) — they must know what Doug knows. As for the Almanac, it’s calling for the “BRRR is back” and a hint at “out like a lion”. Overall, here I’m wagering that this winter will be better than the last few for us snowmobilers.

Two snowmobilers riding down a forested trail on a sunny day
The payback is massive.

Change is Here

Let’s be real here, winters aren’t what they used to be. I won’t bore you with the “we had to wear six layers and the snow was over the roof back in my day” folklore; the reality is that winters are changing for us in Ontario. We’re not only impacted by evolving climate changes, but all society shifts including mindsets towards both land-use and motorized sports. Add in the strain on everyone’s disposable pennies mashed with the cost of our sport, and you’ve got to dedicate yourself to the ROI. 

But, and it’s a big "but": the payback is massive in the moment, because making memories is why we ride! And hey, you know as well as I do that winter is guaranteed here in Northern Ontario. So I’ll see you on the trails!

PSA — Stay on the trails, thank a volunteer, introduce someone new to our sport this winter, and leave some time on each ride to enjoy the scenery!

a shot from a above showing a man laying in a relaxed pose in the snow, next to his snowmobile.
About Jeff McGirr

Jeff McGirr is a powersports & marine enthusiast who loves sharing Northern Ontario experiences with you through his articles and videos.

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