What’s the old saying: in like a lion, out like a lamb? Don’t you just love April? In most of our minds, once April rolls around it is supposed to turn nice and warm and our thoughts turn to planting. What we tend to forget is that April — especially the first two weeks of April — tends to see some of the biggest snowfalls of the season. Remember April 1997, when between 30 and 50 cm of snow fell? How about 1999, when between 25 and 35 cm fell? Before we get into whether or not this snowy, cold start to April will impact the long-range forecast, it’s time to first look back at March to see how the numbers stacked up this year.
Starting in Manitoba, March 2020 actually turned out to be warmer than average, if only by a little bit. The Winnipeg region had the warmest actual and relative temperatures in March. Winnipeg’s mean monthly temperature came in at -5.3 C, which was 0.5 C above the long-term average. Over western regions, the mean monthly temperatures were identical in both the Brandon and Dauphin regions, coming in at -5.9 C, about 0.3 C warmer than average.
Precipitation in March followed a similar but opposite pattern to the temperatures. The Winnipeg region was the driest, with a monthly total of only 3.4 mm of water-equivalent precipitation. The Brandon and Dauphin regions, as with temperatures, came in virtually the same at around 11 mm. The monthly average for March across southern and central Manitoba ranges between 20 and 25 mm.
Moving on to Saskatchewan, it was the tale of south versus central regions. In the south, Regina recorded a mean monthly temperature of -3.1 C, which was 1.7 C above average. Saskatoon was much colder, with a mean monthly temperature of -7.9 C that was 2.5 C below average. Precipitation was well below average in Regina, with only 4.9 mm falling, while in Saskatoon it was a little wetter, but still below average, with around 10 mm recorded.
Moving farther west into Alberta, the colder-than-average trend over central Saskatchewan prevailed, with all three regions reporting well-below-average temperatures. Starting in the south, Calgary reported a mean monthly temperature of -4.6 C, which was 3 C below average. Edmonton came in with a reading of -8.4 C, which was 4 C below average. Peace River’s mean monthly temperature in March was -10.4 C, nearly 5 C below average. Luckily, all this cold was not accompanied by above-average snowfall. All three locations reported near- but slightly below-average amounts of precipitation in March.
Who called it?
Overall, it was warmer and drier than average across the eastern Prairies and colder and drier than average across the west. Now the fun part: did any of the long-range forecasts get it right? Looking back at the forecasts made at the end of February, none of the forecasts got it right and it is a bit of a tough call on who was the closest. The CFS weather model called for well-above-average temperatures across eastern regions in March with slightly above-average temperatures in Saskatchewan, and near- to below-average temperatures in Alberta – not too bad a job, but it also called for near- to above-average amounts of precipitation. The CanSIPS model called for a colder-than-average March right across the Prairies, with the coldest readings across western regions along with average amounts of precipitation. I think I would give the win to the CFS model. Oh, by the way, my forecast was not that bad either, with a call for above-average temperatures right across the Prairies and the best chance over eastern regions, along with near-average precipitation.
Now, on to the April forecasts, and spoiler alert: they have taken a decided turn for the worse. Beginning with the almanacs, the Old Farmer’s Almanac calls for a slightly cooler and very wet April followed by a near-average May. The Canadian Farmers’ Almanac seems to call for near- to slightly below- average temperatures as it mentions fair and cooler several times. It also looks like it calls for near- to above-average amounts of precipitation as it mentions showers and stormy weather several times.
Next, on to the computer models. Starting with NOAA, extrapolating its forecast northward, it appears to call for below-average temperatures over the western end of the Prairies and near average at the eastern end during April, with a warming trend toward average temperatures in the west and above average in the east in May. Eastern regions have the best chance of seeing above-average precipitation, with near-average amounts expected over western regions. The CFS model, which continues to do a good job, calls for a cold start to April with a slow warming trend toward average temperatures in May. This model shows above-average precipitation across eastern regions in April, with near average elsewhere, and near average right across the Prairies in May. Next up, the CanSIPS model calls for well-below-average temperatures in April, warming to near or slightly below average in May. It also calls for above-average precipitation in April across eastern regions, with near-average amounts in May.
Finally, my forecast: short and simple, I am agreeing with the CFS and CanSIPS models (they are almost the same). I sure hope they are wrong, though, as we could use some nice weather to get us through these tough times.