Visualizing wind and early-spring storms

Winnipeg’s two largest April snowstorms of the past 140 years came relatively recently

Northbound moisture-laden air combined with southbound arctic air can create some impressive snowfall events during springtime in Manitoba.

Still working on a review of the winter and how it ranked compared to other winters. You would think accessing climate data would get easier with time, but in fact it is harder. Combine that with report-card week, and I just did not have time to finish it. I should be able to complete this over spring break and have it ready for early April.

This issue’s topic is spring snowstorms. I received a couple of emails about this and looking back, I have not visited this topic for a while now. Thinking positively, the current medium-range forecasts are not pointing toward the possibility of a big spring snowstorm this year. That said, just because I am writing about it doesn’t make me responsible if we do end up getting hit by one!

Before we dive into the topic of spring snowstorms, I think we’ll start something new by looking at a different weather-related website each week. For this week I am going with Here you will find a scalable Earth — much like Google Earth — that will allow you to see current wind direction and speed across the planet. You can move around the Earth and zoom in and out to see more detail, all based on weather model data. I find this site allows you to easily visualize how the air is moving around the planet. The page defaults to surface winds, but if you click on the word “earth” in the bottom left-hand corner, a menu will pop up allowing you to make a whole bunch of changes. If you are even slightly interested in the weather, I recommend you check out this resource — you won’t be disappointed!

Weather events

Now, on to our main topic, spring snowstorms. As we touched on a couple of weeks ago, across the Prairies, March and April have seen 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 storms. 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.

Let us begin by looking at Winnipeg. Over the last 140 years there have been 12 times 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 snowfalls of greater than 20 cm. The two largest April snowstorms over the past 140 years have occurred fairly recently. Both 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 16 days with snowfall greater than 20 cm in March. The most recent occurrence, not including this year’s early-March blizzard, was on March 22, 1995, when 25.3 cm of snow fell. The largest March snowstorm I was able to find was in 1953, when 39.3 cm of snow fell between March 26 and 28. 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, with the most recent occurring on 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.

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 am 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.

As the stats point out, some of the largest snowstorms to hit our part of the world have occurred in March or April. I sure hope we don’t see this happen again this year, but as the weather goes, you just never know! In the next issue we’ll look back at March and then look ahead to see what April and May might have in store.

About the author

Co-operator contributor

Daniel Bezte

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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