Following last year’s brutal winter, dubbed the “polar vortex” in some parts of the country, Canadians can expect a slightly warmer winter season this year.

Environment Canada recently released its “winter outlook” – a general forecast for the next three months. The department’s Senior Climatologist David Phillips discussed the report with CTV’s Canada AM Monday. 

“Not as long and as brutal a winter as we had last year … for all Canadians,” said Phillips. “We won’t have to be migrating and hibernating like we did last year.”

Phillips says Canadians can thank the phenomenon called El Niño.

El Niño occurs when a warm pool of water near the equator travels to the Pacific and Atlantic shores. The changing pattern of the ocean causes a shift in the atmospheric circulation, impacting weather across the globe. For North America, this often means milder temperatures and drier than normal weather.

According to Phillips, it’s taken some time for Canada to feel to effects of the phenomenon this year. But El Niño is now here.

“It’s been a while coming. In fact, someone called it ‘el limbo’ because it just wasn’t appearing.”

As a result of El Niño, Canada won’t see the same polar vortex it did last year, says Environment Canada. Technically speaking, the “polar vortex” is an area of low pressure that normally resides in the Arctic. Last year, the vortex dipped down to southern parts of Canada, leading to a brutally cold and long winter in parts of the country.

Phillips predicts Canada will see less Arctic and Siberian air this winter, and more Pacific air. In fact, he said no major populated areas of Canada are showing colder than normal temperatures thus far.

While western Canada – from Vancouver to Lake Superior, and as far north as N.W.T. – will experience warmer than normal temperatures, Phillips’ predictions for central Canada are more uncertain. He said he expects Ontario and Quebec will see more seasonal temperatures. And warm coastal air means Atlantic provinces will likely experience a warmer than normal winter.

But precipitation is harder to predict, said Phillips.

“It’s like throwing a dart. It’s like rolling the dice. There’s not a lot of skill in terms of precipitation.”

That being said, Phillips said he doesn’t expect any abnormal precipitation for most of the country. The major question is, given the warmer tempertaures, whether that precipitation will be rain or snow. 

“With it being milder, we may see less snow than last year,” said Phillips.