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Back Roads Bill makes a winter prediction

Later start to winter and a milder one, says Bill. Others say bad winter ahead. After studying the natural signs since August, will Bill's prediction prove correct?

The following winter weather prediction was made in late August on the back roads. For a decade now I have been trying to do this.

Yes, you always need to have your snow shovels and the blower ready but this year it will be a later start than usual. Yes, we have had some snow but not all of it has hung around and there will be a calming trend leading up to Christmas and into the New Year.

This winter will be milder, sure there will be an occasional cold trend but it won’t last so long as it will be an early spring.

There are others that differ with this opinion, though.


Within the digital magazine ‘Northern Ontario Travel’ there is the annual Winter Weather Forecast 2022-23 by Jeff McGirr. This year’s installment is entitled: Winter is Guaranteed in Northern Ontario.

“The 2022-2023 edition of the Ontario Snowmobilers Winter Forecast marks the 10-year anniversary of this tradition! For a decade now I’ve brought you the most comprehensive snow-positive guide to winter. Whether the forecast is right or wrong—we've been providing you with the scientific data, expert knowledge, and opinions to get you extra motivated and help plan for the winter ahead.”

His article is all about science and skeptics. He starts off with a real expert.

“Brett Anderson, Accuweather Senior Meteorologist, noted in their Canadian Fall 2022 Forecast that “La Nina will be in place this fall, which will likely impact the overall pattern this upcoming season and perhaps into winter.”

At the time of publication, his Canadian winter forecast had not been published however the fall 2022 forecast gives us a few good snowmobiler signs. Brett notes in the forecast that in Ontario we can expect “a drier and warmer fall” and that we will see “extended stretches of favourable weather for fall.”

This is all good news for the trails we ride, providing time for the swamps to dry up, clubs to complete needed work projects, and most important: saving the precipitation for cooler temps—meaning snow that stays!

Jeff then went to a time-honoured source.

“You're still wearing your beach wear and basking in the summer sun each year when the Farmers Almanac releases its winter prediction. For its 2022-2023 winter report released in early August it predicted this coming winter will be 'remembered as the time to shake, shiver, and shovel—a winter season filled with plenty of snow, rain, and mush as well as some record-breaking cold temperatures.' Pulling out my shovel and digging deeper into the Almanac bank I found the 204-year-old farmer's crystal ball announcing that we're in for a decent amount of snow, especially in late January.

"In addition, the first month of 2023 will be cold—very cold with one of the coldest arctic outbreaks that we’ve seen in recent years. How cold is cold? They're predicting a match-up at -40 degrees C/F.

"After big snow and bone-chilling cold in January expect February to bring sunny skies but it won’t be enough to end the season as winter is expected to go out like a lion in March with big storms.”

Back Roads

Jeff embraces the “wilderness intelligence” of Back Roads Bill.

There probably isn’t anyone in the province who is more “remotely travelled” than Backroads Bill Steer. Throughout 2022 he’s visited the geographic centre of Ontario as well as the other three cardinal corners and the furthest point north in the province.

“As outlined in previous years' forecasts, Bill’s the founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, he’s also known as the legendary Backroads Bill Steer. I wanted to point this out again as he is one of the most credible sources on nature you will find, mentored by the late Gord Restoule of Dokis First Nation.

“Bill is a snowmobiler and the co-creator of the Explorers Snow Tour.

Be sure to check out the documentary we filmed last winter, I really think you will enjoy it.

“In my fireside sit-down with Bill, he explained to me that I wouldn’t be thrilled as a snowmobiler to hear his 2022/2023 winter prediction.

"As he loaded another log on the perfectly engineered fire he laid out that he’s calling for a mild winter as of late September—in fact, one of mildest we’ve seen in a while. Bill predicts that we’re not going to see as much snow as we’d like, the snow will come late, and it will be an early thaw.

"He backed up this prediction by citing that he’s witnessed a lack of mud on beaver lodges which translates into milder temperatures. Furthermore, the beaver feed beds do not seem as extensive, and therefore this points to a shorter winter.

"Bill went on telling me, 'I saw hundreds of sandhill cranes on the fields of Kearns (Little Claybelt - Temiskaming Shores) not in very much of a hurry to migrate, same with the geese and the loons; again signs winter is not on its way. The bears gorge themselves this time of the year but the ones I have seen don't seem to have the fat stores on them yet. The deer have not moved, but it is early for this with the publication date, watch for that occurrence as it is a sure sign of an early snow shower.'

“Curious I probed further. What about the trees and birds, 'Bill? I think you will agree the fall colours are slow this year, which is an indication of an extended season. The Blue jays have not been so raucous yet either.' A bit shocked by Bill’s prediction and the signs he was seeing, I steered the conversation toward the snow, asking when winter does arrive what will the snow be like?

“The snow, it will be wet and that is not so much garnered from a natural sign but the continued signs of climate change. I prefer the term global warming just for the latter word. Jeff, you can still be sure we will get a winter storm or two, but riders may have to head further north to find the best conditions."


People do like to know when winter will start, how long it will last, the amount of snow expected and how cold the days and nights will be. It is part of our Canadian culture.

I subscribe to beaver behaviour. A reliable void in climatic prediction was created in March 14, 2013, when long-time weather prognosticator, Dokis resident, Gord Restoule passed away.

He was regarded as a wealth of what he would call “common sense,” but what scientists now refer to as “traditional knowledge.” For most of his life, Gord judged the weather through personal experiences, and the “passed along” wisdom of the Elders. He said with a wry smile, “You always learned by listening to the wisdom in their stories. Old Indians never waste any words.”

He would say, “The first step in making a prediction is to be one with Nature. Most people don’t see the signs and are too much in a hurry.”

The behaviour of animals, birds and insects, the face of the sky and the growth of plants lead him to report a multitude of weather maxims with good accuracy.

“These are always present to those who take notice of little things.”

He used the simple beliefs of his ancestors who lived and survived through a relationship with their changing environment. As a settler, I am privileged to learn such wisdom from my mentor, a knowledge keeper. You have to spend a great deal of time outside to know.

Winter enthusiasts will not be happy to know there will be a gradual beginning with not so much snow around the Christmas season. Snowmobiling will be delayed.

The “hanging around” of the songbirds were a significant indicator along with the Late turning of colour with common plants. The beavers did not start to gather more for their feed beds, they were later this year, another indication of an early winter.

Spring was really early this year past; I paddled on Boxing Day and then 98 days later I was back again on the Mattawa River. I predicted that early spring last year, which it was, and it will occur again this year.

The beaver lodges are not looking like they are lathered with a lot of mud, so again a milder winter. The geese, seem to be still around, they’ve been flying a steady sky trail lower in the sky; Gord would say they are not in a hurry with fewer stops along the way.

Summer vacationers the hummingbirds were still around into late September and October and we had that really nice extended period of unseasonably warm fall weather. Blue Jays who are year-round residents have not been as raucous as previous years. Recently, the fall colour change was shorter and with the tree colours muted.

Trees are always a good sign, conifers, particularly the red and white pines have shed a great deal more needles again this year—a sign the trees are ready for an early spring and growth.

Leading up to Christmas it will be not so cold during the day and at night with not so much precipitation.

There were so many other signs this year, the squirrels were not collecting cones in a frenzy this year. The songbirds left later this year almost, same with the insects, particularly the moths through the metamorphism process which seemed to be delayed.


Back to Jeff’s article and some summary thoughts.

“There’s a big difference in the predictions from Backroads Bill and the Farmers Almanac—a clash of sorts between wild and cultivated sources. The Almanac has well over 200 years to draw on while Bill retains the knowledge of thousands of years and kilometres.

"As noted, Bill had set out to reach the northernmost point of Ontario in early October and was met with a mean blizzard. Although he was challenged by this, he’s still sticking to his prediction of a less-than-desirable winter for snowmobilers.

"With all this in mind perhaps the difference in predictions from our two 'natural' sources means that winter will be somewhere in the middle. Of course, depending on whether you are in latitude may determine the unfortunate balance between the snow-rain line.”

Bill’s prediction was recently featured on the CBC, along with Jeff McGirr. And you can read Jeff’s article at Northern Ontario Travel. Here was last year’s 2022 prediction in October of 2021.

As David Phillips, Senior Climatologist at Environment Canada, says, “we can put a man on the moon but we still can’t predict the weather.” Who does know anyway?

Will I take it on chin? With climate change/global warming it is a roller coaster when trying to make a seasonal prediction.

One thing is for certain winter will start soon enough on Wednesday, Dec. 21. At the latitude of North Bay-Sudbury-Sault Ste. Marie, sunrise will be at 8:35 a.m., setting at 4:35 p.m. The winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the whole year, making it the “shortest day” of the year and in most places in northern Ontario there are about eight hours of daylight (+-) on the back roads.

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Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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