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Flood outlook may improve under slow spring melt

The risk of significant spring flooding isn’t that high, except for the Red River Valley

As we discussed in my previous article, if you want warm spring temperatures you need to have snow-free ground. While there was plenty of warm air moving into our region last week, the widespread snow cover kept things a little cooler than anticipated. That said, with all the snow cover and the cold ground, I was actually impressed at just how warm it was able to get.

This leads into the first point of discussion for this week: the global temperatures for February which, if you only viewed our part of the world, would simply be summarized as cold. The interesting thing, or for those who like conspiracy theories, is that we were one of the only cold places on the planet during February. If you look at the above map, most of the planet saw above-average temperatures in February. The coldest temperatures, compared to average, were seen across the southern Prairies of Canada along with the corresponding northern U.S. states. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), February was the fifth warmest on record, while NASA booked it as the third warmest. Global satellite-measured temperatures for February were the fifth warmest on record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville.

Aligning with this topic, El Niño conditions have strengthened over the main El Niño region across the Pacific. Just as it is tough trying to make medium- to long-range forecasts for our part of the world, spring El Niño forecasts tend to be fairly unreliable. That said, if we do see El Niño conditions continue to develop this year, we stand a good chance of 2019 continuing the trend of record-breaking warm years globally. The big question, as usual, is whether our part of the world will switch into the heat, or will we continue to see cooler-than-average temperatures? My opinion is that we’ll eventually see a prolonged period of warmer-than-average temperatures. The million-dollar question is, when will this happen? More on this in next week’s issue.

Soil moisture

Now on to the latest flood reports and outlooks. If we look back at the conditions leading into this winter, most regions reported near- to above-average soil moisture. Personally, I wasn’t able to finish prepping my garden due to wet conditions in the fall. While it was not as wet as some years, most areas definitely went into this winter with above-average soil moisture.

After a fairly dry and warm first half of winter, we saw very cold and snowy weather move in during the second half of January which ended up lasting until the middle of March. While it wasn’t record-breaking cold, the length of the cold snap did allow for thick ice to develop on waterways and for frost to penetrate deeper than usual. By the middle of March, snowfall across southern and central Manitoba was near to slightly below average.

The weather pattern that gave us such a cold February through early March — and kept us relatively dry — diverted most of the moisture to our south, resulting in near- to record-breaking snowfall across much of eastern North Dakota and much of northern Minnesota. This is where the problem lies: while it doesn’t look like overland flooding will be much of problem this spring, water flowing north along the Red River has the potential to cause very significant flooding.

The flood outlook that came out around the middle of March painted a very dire picture for the Red River Valley, with predictions ranging from 2011-level flooding if weather conditions were favourable, to 2009 level or worse if weather conditions were unfavourable. While I don’t want to downplay this forecast, looking at the current medium-range forecast, unless you live in the Red River Valley, the chances of significant spring flooding do not appear to be that high. Of course, that is based on no major April storms. So far this year we have dodged all the big weather bullets, but this begs the question of just how long we can keep this up. This is the catch-22 of weather forecasting. Often a weather pattern that keeps storms away will continue and we will keep dodging storms. Statistically, any period of anomalous weather conditions will eventually give way to the opposite weather. The question that would make you rich if you could answer it is, just when will the switch between one pattern and the other happen? As you all know by now, I’m not rich, and I don’t know of any weather forecaster who is overly well off. But we keep trying!

About the author

Co-operator contributor

Daniel Bezte is a teacher by profession with a BA (Hon.) in geography, specializing in climatology, from the U of W. He operates a computerized weather station near Birds Hill Park.

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