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GRANDMA SAYS: Did climate change, change our Sheila?

A developing weather system is expected to reach Newfoundland late Thursday.  There will be snow for some, but milder air ahead of the system will also produce a significant amount of rain and freezing rain. - WSI
A developing weather system is expected to reach Newfoundland late Thursday. There will be snow for some, but milder air ahead of the system will also produce a significant amount of rain and freezing rain. - WSI

Grandma was not from, nor had she ever visited, Newfoundland.  Too bad too, I know she would have loved it and the people as much as I do. Regardless, she was very well acquainted with the story of Sheila and her brush.  

Folklore, that charming expression, crossed provincial borders and language barriers too. But nowhere is the story of Sheila's Brush more popular than it is in Newfoundland. There are lots of old wives ' tales going around there, but Sheila is number one.  

According to Newfoundland weather lore, a winter storm that falls after St. Patrick's Day is known as Sheila's Brush. Sheila is related to Patrick, in some way. Depending on the version of the legend, she might be his wife, sister, mother, mistress or housekeeper. It's believed that the snow that comes on or after March 17 is whipped up by Sheila, brushing the old season away.  

The legend of Sheila's Brush is not to be taken lightly. Some Newfoundland fishers firmly believe this and won't head out until they know the Sheila's Brush storm has passed.  

There was a storm that proved the truth of this legend 13 years ago. On St. Patrick's Day in 2008, the second of two powerful back-to-back storms roared across Newfoundland; schools and businesses were shut down, and in St. John's, public transit was pulled off the road.  The Gander area received close to 120 cm of snow, one-quarter of its average annual snowfall, in about a week. 

A more recent “Brush” came in 2015.  Many of us recall that snow season: the Maritimes got quite a wallop on St Patrick’s Day.  Snow started to fall on March 17 and continued into the 18th.  Halifax ended up with 54 cm of new snow; 35 cm fell in parts of the valley, 30 cm in Sydney, 26 cm in Charlottetown and 15 cm in Moncton. 

Historically, Sheila has been a snowstorm, but there’s no doubt that our weather patterns are changing. Today, I'm watching a developing system that will track just off the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia early Friday, on its way to Newfoundland. Cold air on the backside of the storm will serve up snow to western Newfoundland, but mild air on the south side of the low will likely bring rain and freezing rain across the southeast corner of the Island.    

It makes you wonder if another one won't come later in the month.  Spring snowstorms are not unheard of on the rock. On April 6, 1999, 80 cm of snow fell in St. John's. Enough said! 


Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network

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