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Spring, the snowiest time of the year

Winnipeg, over its last 140 Marches, has seen 12 single-day snows of 20 cm or more

From a meteorological perspective, winter has come to an end and spring is here. Winter is classified as the three-month period from December to February, and across parts of southern and central Manitoba this past winter turned out to be one of the driest winters on record. Looking at the three main reporting centres, Dauphin recorded 31.8 mm of water-equivalent precipitation, which was about 73 per cent of the long-term average for this region. Brandon recorded 22.6 mm of water-equivalent precipitation, about 43 per cent of the long-term average. The Winnipeg region was the dry spot, with only 13 mm of water-equivalent precipitation, a meagre 24 per cent of the long-term average.

Winnipeg’s 13-mm total easily breaks both the modern-era (1938-present) record of 25.9 mm set back in 1983, as well as the St. John’s College days (1872-1938) of 26.2 mm in 1930. In fact, if we add in November’s precipitation, the total for this four-month period only increases to 22.2 mm, which is also a record for the driest November-to-February period. If Winnipeg does not get at least 27.4 mm of precipitation this March, it will end up being the driest extended-winter season on record. With a major spring storm knocking on our doorstep as I write this, it is difficult to say whether the Winnipeg region will see its driest extended winter on record. The driest December-to-February period for Brandon was nine mm, set back in 1914, and in Dauphin it was 24.8 mm, set back in 1983.

Since some or possibly all parts of agricultural Manitoba will be recovering from the first major storm of the year, I thought it would be time to look back once again at what is the snowiest time of the year. March and April are when we tend to see some of the biggest snowstorms. As warm, moist air begins its yearly push northward, cold air from the Arctic sometimes has a hard time letting go. When the two combine we can get some truly big snowstorms. To look back at these spring snowstorms I will once again rely on our three main centres, Dauphin, Brandon and Winnipeg, as these locations tend to capture most of the significant weather events that affect our region.

Snow days

Let’s begin by looking at Winnipeg. Over the last 140 years there have been 12 times that Winnipeg has recorded 20 cm of snow or more on a single day in the month of March — the most recent being March 8, 1999, when 20 cm of snow fell. The largest March snowstorm I was able to find occurred back in 1935, when 53.1 cm of snow fell between March 3 and 6. Interestingly, the next largest snowstorm occurred at nearly the same time (March 4) in 1966, when 35.6 cm of snow fell. Winnipeg has recorded some of its greatest snowstorm totals in April, with five days having snowfall greater than 20 cm. The two largest April snowstorms over the past 140 years have occurred fairly recently. Both of these storms occurred early in the month, with the 1997 storm recording 46 cm of snow between April 4 and 6. Nearly the same amount (45 cm) fell between April 1 and 4 of 1999.

Now, on to Brandon. Since 1890, Brandon has recorded 17 days with snowfall greater than 20 cm in March. The most recent occurrence, interestingly enough, was just one year ago when on March 7, 2017, 23.6 cm of snow were recorded. Combine this with the 16 cm of snow that fell on the previous day and you get the largest March snowstorm, with a grand total of 39.6 cm. This just edges out the previous record of 39.3 cm of snow that fell between March 26 and 28, 1953. April in Brandon has also seen its fair share of large snowfalls. During this month there have been nine days with more than 20 cm of snow recorded, most recently April 27, 1984, when 29.7 cm fell. 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, 1984, when the Brandon region saw nearly 36 cm of snow fall.

To round out our records is the city of Dauphin. Unlike its massive 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 allows the warmer air to mix down to the surface easier, keeping temperatures warmer and precipitation in the liquid state longer – which means less snow.

Given that Dauphin is missing a lot of years of snowfall data, I’m not sure how many days it has recorded 20 cm or more of snow. While precipitation data is available, it often doesn’t indicate how much of the precipitation actually fell as snow. That said, I did go through the available snowfall data and pulled out some significant snowfall events. The most recent event I could find occurred on March 1, 2006, when 25.5 cm fell. The biggest spring snowstorm ever recorded in Dauphin that I could find in the records was 29 cm that fell on March 6-7, 1983. In April there have been a couple of big storms. The first occurred between April 19 and 21 in 1967, when 26 cm of snow fell. Coming in basically tied for first was the snowstorm of April 26-27, 1961, when the Dauphin region saw another 26 cm of snow.

We’ll see if I have to update these stats in my next article.

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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