Weather trivia calendar lets Canadians indulge

They are the stories of Canadians’ misery, hardship and misfortune. But we’re not talking about the daily news headlines.

Environment Canada’s David Phillips displays his 2010 Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar under gloomy skies in Kitchener

TORONTO — They are the stories of Canadians’ misery, hardship and misfortune. But we’re not talking about the daily news headlines.

It’s the 22nd edition of The Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar by popular weather prognosticator David Phillips of Environment Canada.

Chock full of trivia, quizzes, photos and factoids about everything from hurricanes to snowstorms to heatwaves, the calendar indulges a true Canadian passion, said Phillips.

“What subject do Canadians know more about, are more entertained about, more informed about than the weather?” asked Phillips.

So popular is the weather trivia calendar in Canada, it even outsells the Playboy calendar. About 30,000 English copies and 5,000 French copies a year fly off the shelves of major bookstores. But the calendar is a labour of love; Phillips doesn’t make a cent.

“There’s no skin and cleavage in this calendar, it’s all about the layered up look,” he joked.

The calendar has evolved over the years from a black-and-white version to one full of colourful photos and cartoons.

It’s so popular because people who gather at everywhere from the Tim Hortons on the corner to the local Canadian Tire store, all have one thing in common: they want to talk about the weather, he said.

“We curse the weather, we bless the weather, and this just gives us more ammunition to talk about the good old days, about flesh-numbing wind chills and scary lightning strikes,” Phillips said of the calendar.

“It’s all about the horrors of Canada but it is also about the endurance, the fact Canadians shun blizzards and sneer at frostbite. We’re known as the weather people in the world,” he said.

The calendar quotes one expert who says complaining about the weather can be good for you.

“All the blowing you do about the weather doesn’t stop it but boy we love to re-live some of these stories from the past and that’s what the calendar is about,” he added.

Phillips collects stories throughout the year and puts pen to paper in February, spending two months shaping the calendar before sending it to the publisher.

Even after 22 years, he never runs out of material. Quite the opposite; whittling it down is the challenge.

The senior climatologist combs through 25,000 weather stories he’s collected over his 40-year career, newspaper clippings, Hudson’s Bay records, diaries, ship records and small town history books, balancing calendar entries from various provinces each month.

People write him with anecdotes but sometimes get details wrong, he said. But that’s no problem since he can verify facts using the eight billion weather observations from Environment Canada’s archives.

Each day on the calendar has at least one weather anecdote except for one day of the month that features a quiz. Entries range from this decade back to the 1700s.

One favourite anecdote is an Ontario entry for Sept. 7, 1931.

“There were farmers in the Woodstock area that in a heatwave in September found that the corn, when they harvested it, some of the kernels had actually popped into popcorn. That tells you everything about how warm it was,” said Phillips.

Other strange-but-true entries include the one for April 22, when 52 wild geese were killed by lightning in Elgin, Man. in 1932. The carcasses ended up on local dinner tables.

Or July 5, when the heatwave in Saskatchewan in 1937 hit 45 C and grasshoppers were too weak to fly.

Or Jan. 20, when temperatures dipped to -54 C in parts of the Yukon in 1952, it was so cold that breath freezing caused a hissing sound and small patches of ice fog formed over sleeping huskies.

While entertaining, the calendar has had at least one high-profile critic.

“I remember once (then) prime minister Mulroney said he didn’t want this calendar hanging in any trade offices overseas because most of it is misery, hardship and misfortune,” said Phillips.

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