Labrador Climate and Weather
Content provided by: Rodney Barney, Meterologist
To say that Labrador experiences a variety of weather is an understatement...

There are few places where the old cliche, "if you don't like the weather wait a few minutes", could be more appropriate. Being located in the northeastern corner of the North American mainland and bordering the chilled waters of the North Atlantic, the region is susceptible to both maritime and continental air masses, and the continuous parade of alternating low and high pressure systems across the land means the weather rarely stays the same for very long. Just change the wind in the winter and a person starting the day being blinded by the sun may end it being blinded in a blizzard. Switch the breeze from off the land to off the water in a warmer time of the year, and coastal residents may be left wondering if summer suddenly turned into fall. Then factor in the effect that the wide and varied topography of these 294,330 square kilometres of land has on the weather patterns, and what you see unfold is a diversity of weather that can be inspiring and invigorating.

Despite the erratic nature of the region's day-to-day weather, Labrador experiences a climate that has a distinct predictability about it. Winter is characteristically cold and brings a deep snow pack which seems reluctant to let go. But in spite of being slow to take hold, spring still features a dramatic thaw. Summer heralds a welcomed abundance of warm and pleasant days, but they can seem all too fleeting before crisp fall air once again takes control of the landscape. From one day to the next the weather may seem to occur in no particular pattern, but watch it unfold over the course of the seasons and you'll see the magnificent nature of the climate that has shaped the character of Labrador.
Labrador is snow territory. Most areas have snow on the ground continuously for over half of the year, and the occasional snowfall is not uncommon in typically warmer months, such as June or September. In fact, there have been instances in western Labrador where fresh snow has fallen in July and August! Low pressure systems that originate thousands of kilometres away are responsible for most of the region's snow. The disturbances that bring the biggest dumpings form in the moisture-abundant southern latitudes and are then carried by the Jet Stream, a strong current of air in the upper-atmosphere, towards Labrador. These systems are most intense in winter, and consequently not only bring snow, but also strong winds, which result in blizzard conditions.

Since air circulates around these storms in a counter-clockwise fashion, areas to the north of the low's centre will receive easterly or northeasterly winds as the storm approaches, followed by north and northwesterly winds after it passes. On the other hand, locations south of the Low will see winds start out from the southeast, and then shift to south and southwesterly. These southerly winds often bring milder air and cause the snow to change to rain. Hence, the heaviest snowfalls and worst blizzards tend to occur over locations to the north of a storm's track. Sometimes a low will stall over the area rather than passing quickly by. When this happens, periods of snow and blowing snow can persist for several days before the disturbance finally moves off, allowing clearing.

When it is not snowing in Labrador in winter, it is usually very cold. As the low pressure systems responsible for the snow move away, winds shift to the northwest bringing bitter air into the region from the arctic. The coldest weather occurs in western Labrador, where the temperature dips below -30°C on about forty nights per year. The lowest of the temperatures usually do not penetrate to the coast, but the absence of physical barriers to the wind over exposed coastal sections often mean these areas experience some of the most extreme wind chills in Labrador.
Spring in Labrador is usually a short period of transition between winter and summer. Temperatures usually start rising above 0°C regularly over southern and central areas in late-March, western areas in early-April, and over the north by late-April, and then it normally only takes another four weeks from these dates for the ground to become bare. In May the weather can be highly variable, especially in the interior, when a warm southwesterly flow will sometimes push the temperature above 25°C, but then a sharp wind shift to the northwest can send the thermometer plummeting with accompanying flurries.

Along the coast, the weather is often slow to warm up in the spring. The reason is that the wind often blows off the ice-chilled waters of the Labrador Current. These winds often bring grey skies with frequent drizzle or freezing drizzle and fog, and temperatures that hover near the freezing mark.
Labrador summers feature plenty of pleasant days, but the season is quick to pass by. In the interior it can get particularly warm. Temperatures exceed 30°C at Happy Valley-Goose Bay an average of three days per year. In order for such heat to occur, a southwesterly flow usually is required to persist for a number of days, bringing warm air into the region from the centre of the continent. These winds will bring very warm air to much of the Labrador Coast as well. However, one notable exception is along the Strait of Belle Isle. Southwesterlies there have to cross the chilly waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. That results in a significant cooling effect for communities from L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay, and the mixing of air masses often creates fog. The Labrador Straits experiences about 65 foggy days per year, whereas the remainder of the Labrador coast only receives about 30 days of fog, and the interior just ten such days.

Most of Labrador receives ample rainfall in the summer months as low pressure systems, although much weaker and less frequent than their winter counterparts, continue to track across the land. Typically these systems also bring cool marine air over the region and coastal fog. On warmer, sunnier days, short but heavy afternoon showers can develop as moisture evaporates from the lakes and land, creating clouds which grow and produce localized areas of precipitation. Sometimes these can grow into thunderstorms. The coast receives an average of two to five thunderstorm annually, while inland locations see between seven and ten. Occasionally these thunderstorms will grow severe enough to produce hail, and possibly even a remote tornado. However, due to the sparse population of the interior, such storms are very unlikely to be reported.
The air usually begins to start feeling cooler over Labrador beginning in late-August, as days grow shorter and sun-angle becomes lower. Most areas typically receive the first frost in early-September. By early-October most areas have often seen a first snowfall, and by early-November much of interior Labrador will have snow on the ground to stay.

Along the coast, early snowfalls will often melt as temperatures alternate from below to above freezing. The fall months are also when the weather begins to turn more stormy. As passing low pressure systems grow more intense, the winds become stronger, and the precipitation heavier. By early December, all areas of Labrador will normally have at least some snow on the ground, and with temperatures regularly staying below freezing, the stage is set for another winter.

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