TORONTO - Canadians in the eastern part of the country may have gasped with shock when they found themselves in the teeth of an arctic wind on Monday, but Environment Canada has few words of comfort _ sometimes, reality bites.
The blustery breezes and snowy conditions that prompted warnings and cancellations east of Manitoba are par for the course during the unpredictable month of April, the country's leading weather agency said.
Snowfalls such as the one threatening Labrador overnight are considered standard all through the month, and the always unreliable weather systems that dog the country year-round become particularly volatile throughout the early spring.
Senior climatologist David Phillips said the current conditions would barely register on the collective radar in an average winter, but said Canadians were taken unaware after weeks of unseasonably mild temperatures and record low precipitation levels.
The intense low-pressure system working its way up from the U.S. and reviving images of Old Man Winter east of Manitoba, he said, should serve as a reality check for those who thought spring had come to stay.
"April really has all of the suites of weather that we often get. Sometimes it's the middle of winter, sometimes it can be summery-like weather," Phillips said in a telephone interview.
"It really is the battleground ... A lot of the systems are found in eastern Canada in April, and I think this particular day and tomorrow is very much proof of that."
Environment Canada issued a raft of severe weather warnings for parts of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
Forecasters are predicting strong winds through much of Quebec, adding that snow and freezing rain can be expected over the East Coast in the next few days.
Much of northeastern and southern Ontario has been placed under a significant snow watch, prompting school boards in the Ottawa area to cancel some bus routes and classes.
The wintry conditions should hang on for at least a few days, Phillips said, adding a return to seasonal norms is expected by week's end.
The type of activity unfolding on the East Coast is in no way unusual, he said, adding weather watchers in search of unusual climate activity would be best advised to set their sights to the West.
Across the prairies and much of Alberta, Canadians are basking under sunny skies as temperatures soar. Phillips said mother nature was on pace to post some new records in southern Alberta, where the temperature was expected to flirt with the 30C mark by day's end.
Probably people are snickering at what eastern Canadians are having to deal with," Phillips said.
Westerners may be getting a sneak preview of what lies in store next month, Phillips said, adding current Environment Canada models suggest the 2012 trend of milder temperatures and precipitation lows is expected to continue through May.
That lack of precipitation is causing some concern in climate circles, Phillips said, since it has left the ground unusually dry for this time of year and poses a threat to the country's farmers fields and forests.
Monday's return of winter, he said, should be seen by some as a blessing.
"The weather you're cursing today, when it turns out to be dryer than normal as it gets into the warm season, you may be singing a different tune here with regards to the precipitation," he said. "This is welcome rain that we need right now."