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Wiarton Willie predicts early spring. Two-legged weather forecasters disagree

Christopher Burton Phillips is escorted from provincial court in Dartmouth, N.S. on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. Phillips, arrested in Ottawa earlier in the week, faces charges of uttering threats and possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose. Police allege in a sworn information that Phillips threatened a police officer and possessed osmium tetroxide, a highly toxic chemical. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Meteorologists may not always see eye to eye, but as a raging snowstorm swept over Central Canada on Monday they all agreed that the country’s most famous forecasting groundhog was a born optimist.

Ontario’s Wiarton Willie earned cheers from a crowd of onlookers as he tentatively emerged from his burrow and failed to see his shadow, which folklore suggests means that spring is just around the corner.

Its prediction came as a major storm sent temperatures plunging in his home province and blanketed much of the region with up to 40 centimetres of snow.

Willie’s other prognosticating counterparts also begged to differ on the long-range forecast.

As the storm tracked towards Quebec and Atlantic Canada, Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil and Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam spotted their shadows and confirmed what two-legged forecasters have been saying all along — winter is nowhere near finished.

“I guess I found out Wiarton Willie is maybe a glass-half-full kind of guy,” said Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meteorologist with Environment Canada. “I guess he’s going for an early spring forecast. Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania said, ‘no way, six more weeks of winter.’ I’ve got to say I’m leaning towards Phil’s forecast.”

Coulson said the major storm system that cancelled flights and closed schools across much of Ontario is poised to wreak havoc in other provinces in the coming days.

Southeastern Quebec is bracing to receive up to 20 centimetres of snow, he said, adding northern parts of the province will have to shiver their way through frigid temperatures that could dip as low as -45C.

Conditions may be even worse in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Coulson said, adding Environment Canada expects parts of those provinces to receive up to 40 centimetres of snow over the next two days. The snow is expected to turn to ice pellets or freezing rain in Prince Edward Island.

No sooner does the storm peter out then Coulson said another system will start forming in the foothills of Alberta and gear up to prolong the deep freeze across the eastern part of the country through the weekend.

Coulson said the week ahead is a sign of things to come for people in Ontario and all points east.

Indications are that the Great Lakes Basin, Quebec, even parts of the Maritimes are going to be somewhat colder than normal for the month of February,” Coulson said. “The first peak that we had at the month of March is also looking somewhat colder than normal. So it looks like, unfortunately, we still have a fair amount of winter left to go.”

In Nova Scotia, at least, people seemed resigned to the forecasts delivered by human and animal forecasters alike.

“Given the weather forecast and the amount of snow currently on the ground, (Shubenacadie) Sam’s prediction likely isn’t a surprise to most Nova Scotians,” said Zach Churchill, the province’s natural resources minister.

Coulson said there is one area where Wiarton Willie’s prediction may come true. Western Canada, he said, is on track for seasonal temperature norms with perhaps some forays into above-average territory.

The Weather Network, which issued its mid-winter outlook after the groundhogs had delivered their forecasts, agreed.

“The West Coast is the one part of Canada where above seasonal temperatures are expected for the remainder of winter,” the network said in a statement. “That does not mean we won’t have any more winter weather in this region, but periods of mild temperatures will more than offset any periods of colder-than-average temperatures.”

– Follow @mich_mcq and @liamdevlincasey on Twitter

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