We usually begin the year with a look back at some of the big stories from the previous year and my articles usually follow this trend, so I asked myself: should I change it up this year? The answer: no. I think these looks back are kind of fun and they allow us to remember what has happened either to us or to others, giving us the ability to say we made it through yet another year.
The question I struggle with each year is, should I begin with the big-picture global look at 2019 weather, or should I start locally and then move out toward the global picture? More often than not, I choose to start at our local level, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t take the same tack this year.
Now, for the most part, I can’t take credit for these 2019 weather highlights, as I tend to glean them from other sources such as Environment Canada and the Weather Network. What I do add to these stories is that I look at them from a more local, western point of view, rather than the more eastern viewpoint that most other articles seem to have. That said, on to our top local weather stories of 2019.
Looking back, it is difficult to say which story was the biggest of the year. For me, it was a couple of stories, which when combined together brought about what I consider to be the biggest local weather story of 2019, and that was precipitation — either the “too little” or the “too much.”
2019 began dry and just kept getting drier across a large part of the Canadian Prairies. Looking back at the monthly precipitation totals, January was slightly drier than average across six of our eight major reporting centres in the Prairie provinces (Winnipeg, Dauphin, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Peace River), with Brandon and Calgary coming in right around average. This dry start followed an already dry December across both Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Moisture increased a little bit in February, with most stations reporting near- to slightly above-average amounts of precipitation. This increase led some to the conclusion that it may end up being a wet spring; oh, were we wrong!
March ended up being one of the driest months on record across the Prairies. Six of the eight stations reported less than three mm, with the other two stations reporting less than 10 mm. Luckily, it was colder than average, so while there wasn’t a lot of snow, it melted very slowly and most of the water was absorbed rather than running off. This tended to keep the talk of drought a little at bay, but then April and May rolled in and the rains never came. Rainfall (or snowfall) in both April and May was way below average right across the Prairies, with all eight stations reporting well-below-average amounts. While total amounts were naturally going up as temperatures warmed, the difference between what was falling and the long-term average was increasing. Monthly precipitation deficits were climbing into the 25- to 40-mm range. Just as things were starting to look really bad, the rains came to Alberta and Saskatchewan in June, bringing near- to above-average amounts of precipitation. In Manitoba, the rains came to western regions, while eastern regions remained dry. For some areas, these rains came in time, while in other regions it was a little too late.
Rainfall was pretty steady in July, with near- to above-average amounts falling. Once again, for some regions the rains were helping to at least salvage what was looking like a bad year. Across parts of Alberta the rainfall was actually becoming a problem, creating wet, waterlogged fields. August began to dry out a little bit, bringing the promise of a nice warm, dry fall, but then September rolled in. While September did bring some nice warmth, the warm weather also brought with it rain — record amounts of rain — at least across the eastern Prairies. Southern Manitoba was the hardest-hit area, with September rainfall records falling like dominoes. Brandon was the wettest of the main reporting stations, with over 180 mm of rain falling, but there were smaller stations that reported upward of 250 mm during the month. These rainfalls made it impossible for anyone to get onto the fields to complete any harvesting.
As October rolled in, hopes were high that we would see dry, warm weather that would possibly help salvage what was turning into a really bad harvest. Across Alberta and Saskatchewan, this kind of happened, as rainfall or snowfall amounts were near to even below average. Across Manitoba, things just got worse. One of the biggest October snowstorms struck during the middle of the month, dumping upward of 75 cm of heavy, wet snow. Even those areas that didn’t see the heavy snow ended up receiving significant rainfall, turning an already bad situation worse. By the end of the month, rivers across southern and central Manitoba were running at record-high levels for this time of the year. In Winnipeg, the Red River Floodway was put into operation for the first time ever in the fall. From a precipitation point of view it almost seemed like the seasons were reversed.
Well, surprisingly, that is all the room we have this time around. In the next article we’ll continue to explore the top weather stories of 2019, from the overheating Arctic to the missing spring in Eastern Canada.