Canada: West and Rockies

North America

About Canada: West and Rockies

Sara and John say...

Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan:

Think Canada and you might automatically think of snow and long winters. But in the west, in British Columbia and Alberta, it’s not as simple as that.

Westerly winds blowing in off the Pacific can moderate temperatures throughout the year, so that particularly along the coast in British Columbia, there’s not a huge annual variation. Vancouver sees its average daytime temperatures only range from 6ºC in January to 20ºC in June, and normal night time lows don’t fall below freezing at any point through the year.

It’s when you head inland into Alberta, away from the moderating influence of the ocean, that things turn a bit more dramatic; in Calgary average daytime highs swing from -5ºC in winter to the low twenties in the summer, with night temperatures down to -16ºC. But beware, if all that makes you think the coast is the obvious holiday destination, don’t forget to think about the rain. In Vancouver’s late autumn and winter months, you can expect lots of rain on every 2 out of 3 days, but it turns much drier in summer.

Meanwhile, conditions across the Rocky Mountains can vary immensely depending on altitude and which side of the mountains you’re talking about. The western slopes are wet and mild, while it’s drier and can be much colder on the eastern side.

There’s some interesting and dramatic meteorology too, in the form of the legendary Chinook, or “snow-eater”, winds. The winds, which originate over the Pacific, funnel up one side of the mountain, then warm rapidly as they descend on the other side, melting up to a foot of snow in hours and pushing temperatures up by tens of degrees. They’re most common in the south of Alberta; Pincher Creek south of Calgary once recorded a 41ºC jump in temperatures in - wait for it - just one hour thanks to a Chinook!

Still in Alberta, further back up the road, the breathtaking resort of Banff offers all manner of outdoor pursuits throughout the year, from skiing and hockey in the winter, to hiking and cycling in the summer. But even though it’s relatively far south compared with other Canadian Aurora Borealis hotspots, it’s a favoured location to see the Northern Lights, with the Rockies and reflective lakes offering a beautiful setting for the natural light show.

The Prairies, the Canadian extension from the US’s Great Plains, which includes parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, sees long snowy winters and short, briefly warm, summers, with the potential for huge temperature swings across the year.

Manitoba is a province of extremes, both across the year and across the province as a whole. Cold, dry winters, although with snow, typify the north of Manitoba, whereas it’s warmer, but wetter and more humid further south. In all parts, average daytime maximum temperatures swing by 40 degrees C through the year. Of the Prairies provinces, Manitoba is the wettest, with most rain falling in the summer. The summer storms can be intense, and often develop into thunderstorms. In fact 3/4ths of all tornadoes in Canada occur across the Prairies.

In Saskatchewan’s capital Regina average daytime highs swing from minus double digits in winter to the mid to high twenties in the summer. It’s a fairly dry province, but take note that June is Regina’s wettest month.

Average summer temperatures in this part of the world might be in the 20sC, but it can get a lot hotter. Canada’s warmest day on record was in 1937, when Midale and Yellowgrass, both in the south of Saskatchewan, each recorded 45ºC.

Average weather in

Vancouver

Average weather in

Victoria