With spring starting to make itself felt across the region and all the talk about the deep snow and flood potential, I thought I would bring up what could be an alarming weather fact: some of our heaviest snowfalls occur during the spring! I thought I would dig back into the weather records and share with you some of the biggest spring snowstorms we’ve seen across southern and central Manitoba.
Before we look at some of these big snowfalls, let’s examine why we can experience such heavy snowfalls in the spring. During our spring, Arctic regions are still covered in snow and ice and cold temperatures are usually still in place. Farther south, the snow has all melted and warm, moist air begins to build. These are the two ingredients we need for big storms to develop. Every so often these two features combine during April to produce snow instead of rain and as we’ll see below, these spring snowstorms can bring a lot of snow.
I wish I had the time to check out the weather records for every location in agricultural Manitoba, but unfortunately I don’t. So as usual, I have broken down the records into my main three areas: Dauphin, Brandon and Winnipeg. For this study, I only looked at snowfall and did not take into account any combination of rainfall and wet snow, as this would mostly have been recorded as “rainfall” at any of the Environment Canada stations.
Let’s begin by looking at Winnipeg. Being situated near the eastern side of the province, it is located close to the main storm track for late-season Colorado lows. This being said, Winnipeg has recorded some of the greatest snowstorm totals in the month of April. The two largest snowstorms over the past 135 years have occurred within the last decade. Both of these storms occur red early in the month, with the 1997 storm recording 48 cm of snow between April 4 and 6 and nearly the same amount (46 cm) fell between April 1 and 4 of 1999. The third-worst spring snowstorm occurred way back in 1872, when on April 12-13, Winnipeg received just over 38 cm of snow. The fourth-largest spring snowfall, interestingly enough, also occurred fairly recently, in 1996, when Winnipeg saw 35 cm of snow fall between April 19 and 25. I’m not sure what was going on, weather-wise, during the 1990s but there sure were some really miserable Aprils!
Now, on to Brandon. Being farther west, Brandon does not see as many severe spring snowstorms. First of all, it is farther away from the main storm track, and secondly, springtime temperatures tend to be a little warmer out west due to higher elevations and less snow cover. This means April snowstorms will tend to mix with rain, which will reduce the total snowfall amount. That said, the largest springtime snowstorm I was able to find occurred back on April 26, 1961, when a whopping 47 cm of snow fell in just one day! The next-largest spring snowstorm occurred on April 26-27 in 1984, when the Brandon region saw 37 cm of snow. The third-largest springtime snowstorm in this region happened back on April 5-6 in 1937, when almost 26 cm of snow fell.
To round out our records is the city of Dauphin. While the Dauphin region has a tendency to see really large fall snowstorms, Dauphin’s higher elevation seems to work against it for springtime storms. This makes sense, because as warm air streams northward in the spring, the higher elevation in this region helps to mix the warmer air down to the surface, which keeps any precipitation in the liquid state longer, which means less snow.
That said, the biggest spring snowstorm ever recorded in Dauphin occurred between April 26-28 in 1984, when 32 cm of snow fell. The second-largest snowstorm was April 19-21 in 1967 when 26 cm of snow fell. This was the same year Winnipeg saw a one-day dump of 21 cm on May 1 (since it was only a couple of days after I was born, I am constantly reminded of it – maybe that’s why I’m such a weather geek!). Coming in tied for second was the snowstorm of April 26-27, 1961 when the Dauphin region saw another 26 cm of snowfall. The fourth-largest snowstorm in the Dauphin region was only slightly smaller, but occurred in the same decade as the first two. On April 27 and 28, 1966, about 25 cm of snow fell. For this region the 1960s really seemed to have some bad spring weather!
So, as the stats point out, some of the largest snowstorms to hit our part of the world have occurred in April. Will we see a repeat this year? I really hope not, but as the weather goes, you just never know. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that April ends up bringing us perfect weather and that all this talk of flooding doesn’t materialize.