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After record warmth, a cold snap is coming too late for the Ice Dragon Boat Festival races

“It looked like winter, but it doesn’t feel like winter. It was so mild and yet it snowed.”

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After Ottawa’s third-warmest winter on record, a cold snap is coming, and weather watchers are predicting below-average temperatures for February.

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But it’s just too late for the BeaverTails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival, which had hoped to hold its sell-out races on Dow’s Lake February 3-4 when Winterlude’s 45th edition begins.

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Having to cancel is “destructive,” CEO John Brooman said on Friday.

“About 110 teams are coming – we are completely sold out. Seventy percent of these come from outside the city, either by plane or by car. So, from a tourist perspective and an economic perspective for the city of Ottawa, the loss is probably in the neighborhood of about $4 million.

“It’s a devastating blow for us because we’ve obviously just gotten over COVID and this is our first kick in the can to return to the ice event for the BeaverTails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival. Sponsors are in place, teams are very excited to come in.”

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Organizers have exhausted all efforts to find a new venue or to postpone the event, which sees boats with scorpionfish heads and tails traverse the course on skate-like runners.

“There’s no blame, there’s no fault, just that Dow’s Lake has about six inches of ice right now and the rest is a combination of water, mud and snow,” Brooman said.

The National Capital Commission is “doing what it can, but it’s not going to happen.”

Registered racers will receive full refunds, with organizers planning to welcome them back in 2024.

One perk is that the Dragon Boat Festival features a slew of free concerts at Rainbow through Winterlude running through Feb. 20, Brooman said. The Foundation will also continue its Shiver ‘N Giver charity fundraiser for Boys and Girls Clubs Ottawa, Cornerstone Housing For Women, Kidney Foundation of Canada and Tim Hortons Foundation Camps.

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Looking ahead to November through January, this was the third warmest winter in Ottawa on records dating back to 1872, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips said Thursday. Only the winters of 1931 and 2001 were milder.

“What a winter that was,” he said. “It looked like winter, but it doesn’t feel like winter. It was so mild and yet it snowed.”

January was about five degrees warmer than normal, with an average temperature of -5.1C when it was supposed to be -10.3C. December was more than 3C warmer than normal and November was 1.5C to 2C warmer.

The coldest “moment” in Ottawa this winter was -18.3C on January 16, a threshold surpassed 22 times last winter.

Most Canadians would consider -20C a cold day, Phillips said, and Ottawa gets an average of 16 or 17 of them in an average winter. There weren’t any this winter, although normally by the end of January there would have been a dozen.

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As of Thursday — with snow still falling — Ottawa had received 171 inches of snow when it would have normally received 122. A small storm with another 10 centimeters was forecast for this weekend.

Total snowfall for a typical winter is about 210 centimeters.

And there is “much more to plow and push and shovel”.

However, be prepared for a cold snap. Much colder temperatures are expected to begin Sunday night with a forecast low of -16C and continue next week, dropping to a forecast -25C on Thursday night.

Weather models have February in Ottawa with two cold weeks and then likely average temperatures.

“Don’t give up on winter,” Phillips said, adding, “Perhaps the coldest moment of winter is ahead.”

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According to a report commissioned by the NCC and released in 2020, winters could be four weeks shorter by 2030, with average temperatures in Ottawa forecast to rise 1.8°C by 2030 and 3.2°C by 2050.

“This could be the dress rehearsal of what we’re going to see as normal,” Phillips said. “In 2050, this might be the normal winter: it starts at the end of January and ends on March 1st.

“It doesn’t mean next winter will be like this winter plus one… It doesn’t work that way.”

The Department of Canadian Heritage said the team behind Winterlude “constantly monitors weather conditions and develops contingency plans as needed” and has adapted activities and venues to reflect changing conditions. The NCC updates Winterlude’s ice conditions daily on the Rideau Canal Skateway.

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Ice sculptures on Sparks Street can be covered to protect them during hot spells, for example. For the Snowflake Kingdom in Jacques Cartier Park, the city of Gatineau uses “snow cannons” that can be used in changing weather conditions and create snow when temperatures are at their best.

“Should the weather affect planned activities, efforts will be made to reschedule or adjust them – cancellation would be a last resort,” a Canadian Heritage spokesman wrote in an email.

NCC crews will soon resume work to build up the ice on the skateway after several days of snow, a spokesman said Friday. The skateway cannot be opened for its season until the surface is at least 30 centimeters thick and with good quality ice.

“For that we need 10 to 14 days of consecutive cold weather. So far the winter has been mild and has not reached the required temperatures and number of consecutive days. In the meantime, for safety reasons, the NCC is asking the public not to venture out on the ice.”

With cold temperatures just around the corner, it’s frustrating for the likes of Brooman to have just missed that weather window.

“It’s going to hurt to watch the snowblowers on Dow’s Lake next week.”

With files by Joanne Laucius

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