What is Winter Like in Halifax, Nova Scotia?

Richard Payne
Published on February 1, 2022

What is Winter Like in Halifax, Nova Scotia?

Winter in Halifax, how bad is it?

Depending on where you are coming from really determines how you will find winter in Halifax.

We came from the UK where everything shuts down at the sight of a snowflake so our first experience of snow in Halifax was amusing.

We had freshly arrived with our PR cards in hand in March 2007 and moved into our home a few days later. There wasn’t a single flake of snow anywhere to be found and the sun was shining. We were thinking “this is winter in Canada, really? This will be a breeze”

Certain that an early Halifax Spring was on the way, a few weeks later, on Easter weekend the biggest dump of snow of winter 2007 arrived. We were caught without proper clothing (our container hadn’t yet arrived with all our winter clothing) and we didn’t even have snow shovels. We were typically unprepared “tourists” and eternally grateful to our lovely neighbour who dug us out while (I imagine) was rolling his eyes at our spectacular unpreparedness for a new life in Canada.

So what have we learned from this experience?

  1. Winter is long
  2. Being prepared is essential
  3. To fully embrace winter can be costly

We genuinely love winter in Halifax, Nova Scotia

There is so much to do from skiing (we have two ski hills, Ski Martock and Ski Wentworth) skating, sledding, snow shoeing and winter hiking, but we know many people who detest it and I can understand the contempt, especially as we are now into our 17th winter in Canada and getting that much older (and wiser, perhaps).

One thing we know for sure is that to get through winter in Canada, you ABSOLUTELY have to embrace it and get outside and enjoy it, otherwise it can really make you miserable.

Skiing at Ski Martock, 45 minutes from door to door

Unlike other parts of Canada that have extreme winters, we don’t fare too badly here. Last week for example, it was a bone chilling minus 40 Celcius (actual temperature) feeling like minus 45-48c in parts of the Prairies. We do not experience cold like this here in Halifax. And we don’t tend to suffer too much with ice storms that hit other parts of Canada during winter.

Each winter is different here on the East Coast and some easier than others. This year (2022) has been pretty brutal. We’ve had prolonged cold temperatures which has helped keep lakes and backyard ice rinks frozen for longer and we had our first ice storm experience a few weeks back. Apparently, it was the first ice storm in over 17 years. Along with many other Nova Scotian households, we lost power. In our case we were out for 26 hours but it turned out to be the most beautiful, surreal experience with everything coated in ice, trees were weighed down with a million sparkling diamonds and made the most magical noises, like wind chimes as they crackled beneath the weight. This was a unique experience for us and one that was messy, inconvenient but at the same time, incredibly stunning.

The calm after the ice storm of Winter 2022

“Real” winter in Halifax doesn’t usually start until January.

We tend to have the odd cold day in November and December and maybe even a snow storm or two, but Christmas can be fairly mild and green. This January, winter has been very typically Canadian. It has been cold for most of the month and we’ve had a couple of big storms. We are still clearing up from this weekends nor’easter which dumped around a foot and a half of snow on us, mixed with strong winds, freezing rain, rain and snow. The snow banks at the end of our driveway are like icebergs because the temperature is hovering around the minus 10-20 Celsius each night.

 Sound pretty grim, right?

But it’s not! It’s absolutely beautiful. The sun is shining in through the window as I type this. The sky is clear and blue, the snow is glistening, there is no wind and it is spectacular. We took our dog for a morning walk and it was minus 11c. He has a warm coat and optional booties (which he despises) for when it’s particular salty and icy.

Our boy enjoying his daily winter walk.
Our boy enjoying his daily winter walk

In general, winter conditions in Halifax tend to be variable, making it hard to predict. It’s a pointless task checking the weather forecast for the week ahead. There’s a saying here that if you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes and that is certainly true of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Shifts occur rapidly (sunny, foggy, cloudy, snow, rain, freezing rain, snow, dry) and temperature changes can see the mercury soaring or plummeting in a matter of hours, often leaving a messy mix behind.

One thing you will notice, is that true Canadians rarely talk about the weather.

You can often gage how intense a winter storm is going to be by the number of people in the grocery or liquor stores (seriously!). People will stock up on storm chips, hot chocolate, non perishable foods incase of a power outage – and alcohol. Once pantry’s are stocked, most people will ride out the storm unless they are an essential worker and have to make it into work. Bus routes tend to move to a snow plan so allow for disruptions if you use public transport.

Roads can be messy to drive on, especially if they haven’t been plowed very well. Generally, highways are well maintained during the winter. Subdivisions and side walks (pavements) not so well. Winter driving can take a bit of getting used to and practicing in all types of winter weather is really worth doing. Plus good snow tyres makes a huge difference in winter driving.

Roads in our subdivision after the last snow storm (Jan 2022). Some better than others.

Winter in Halifax is really what you make it.

People still have to get to work, to school, to appointments and run errands. As such, dressing in layers is key to making all types of winter conditions bearable. Waterproof jackets and footwear will keep you dry while hats, gloves and face coverings will keep you warm.

You’ll often hear people say “there is no bad weather, there is just bad clothing” and in a way I think this is true.

Thermals are a good investment if you really feel the cold. I’ll often wear a long sleeve thermal top as a base layer if I am working from home and not moving around too much. The advantage of wearing layers is that it traps the body heat inside and helps you to stay warm. You can easily take something off when you get too hot and put another layer on if you get too cold.

As mentioned previously, we don’t tend to get extreme cold here in Halifax but we will occasionally get a frostbite weather warning during the winter. It’s very important to cover all exposed skin if you are going to be out in extreme weather. Hypothermia and frostbite are the two most common issues from staying unprotected in the cold. When the weather is bitterly cold but the sun is shining, it’s fun to be out as long as you are well protected. We’ve been snowshoeing in temperatures of minus 10c and opening jackets and taking off hats because we warmed up so quickly. But it’s very easy to cool off rapidly once you stop moving. Using your common sense and judging what feels right to you is essential.

With that being said, depending on where you arrive from and how deep your pockets are, winter can be costly especially if you want to embrace all that there is to do. Kitting out the whole family with winter clothing and boots, skis, skates, sleds can be expensive. For the first few years, we rented skis when we went to the local ski hill but it ended up being far cheaper to buy second hand, lightly used skis for the children. Skates and helmets are free if you skate at the Halifax Oval but you’ll probably need to buy a good helmet and skates if your children are interested in learning to skate. Again, you can buy “almost new” skates that children quickly grow out of but a brand new helmet is always a wise move so you know it hasn’t been involved in any collisions. Helmets don’t always show signs of damage and it’s a gamble when buying them used.

Plus, there is additional cost of winter tyres, having them put on and taken off and snow clearing equipment.

My trusty snowblower helping me get through winter.

Despite what you might read on other forums, winter is very manageable here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As long as you are dressed right and you have a good mindset, you’ll sail through it. Yes it’s long, but it’s a “proper” winter and far nicer than the rainy, grey, miserable winter of the UK that we happily left behind.

Please reach out if I can answer any of your questions about life in Halifax, NS. We are always happy to help!

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