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Worrying About Snow Amounts?

I’m not sure why, but the talk around the water cooler seems to a have a definite lean toward snow – in particular, just how much snow we’ve received this winter. The problem I have with these discussions is that I’m just not sure why everyone thinks we have huge amounts of snow. Maybe it’s the fact that we just finished one of the wettest growing seasons across the Prairies and seeing pi les of snow around just makes you worry about spring, or maybe it’s the fact that for some regions, you just haven’t seen a good snowy winter for a while; I don’t know.

If you look at the map of current snow amounts across the Prairies and compare it to previous years, I would have to agree that there is a good depth of snow across most of the Canadian Prairies. That in itself is a little unusual. Often we’ll see fairly low amounts of snow cover across much of the Prairies, with deeper snow cover usually only found over some parts of the region. So far this winter, it seems Old Man Winter is trying to be fair, giving everyone a fairly decent shot of snow.

So why, then, am I a little confused about all of this snow talk? Well, when you start to look at the precipitation data across all three Prairie provinces, the story doesn’t totally support the talk. Looking at precipitation

amounts from November through to the end of January, a snowy pattern does unfold, but so far it’s not that far off from what we would normally expect.

Over Manitoba, the Brandon and Winnipeg regions typically see about 100 millimetres of precipitation during the winter months (November to March). With three of the five winter months now under their belts, Winnipeg is about 12 mm above average and Brandon about 30 mm. While 30 mm above average does seem to be a lot, all it would take is one dry month to bring the overall amounts back down to average.

In Saskatchewan, amounts are definitely on the dry side so far this winter. Both Regina and Saskatoon typically expect to see about 80 mm worth of precipitation

during the winter, and so far this winter Regina is about 15 mm below average and Saskatoon is around 20 mm below average. After all the rain these areas received during the spring and summer, they are probably hoping this pattern continues for the last two months of winter.

As I write this article, I could say parts of Alberta are experiencing an average winter while others are seeing well above-average amounts of precipitation. With a major storm expected to drop significant amounts of snow over southern regions, the values I have will likely change. As of the end of January, the Calgary region was right on average for what it should expect at this point in the winter. Typically Calgary receives about 65 mm of precipitation during the winter. Edmonton tends to be a little wetter in the winter, with an average winter precipi tat ion total of about 85 mm. So far this winter Edmonton is the wet spot and can probably rightly complain about all of the snow. The Edmonton region has already recorded over 88 mm of precipitation, which is nearly 40 mm above the average to the end of January.

IN STORAGE

While most regions have seen near or a little aboveaverage amounts of precipitation this winter, no region has been buried under copious amounts of snow. Why then, all the worry about spring flooding, especially in Saskatchewan and Manitoba? The key to this answer goes back to all of the rain that fell across the Prairies this past summer. Those rains saturated the soils and filled most regions that retain water close to full. Even large lakes are experiencing near-record-high levels. This means that once the melt starts it won’t take long for all of these water storage areas to fill up, then the water will have only one place to go: over land.

While a lot can still happen between now and the spring melt, it does seem the cards are a little stacked against us. When even an average amount of snow could create problems, it is a little unnerving to have average or aboveaverage amounts of snow around, especially since we still have March and early April to get through, which are months when we typically see our largest snowstorms.

Will we see an early start to the melt that will help stretch out the melt season and greatly reduce the risk of flooding, or will spring come late and fast? I’m hoping we’ll see a couple of dry, warm final months to winter and that all this talk of snow and flooding slowly disappears… along with the snow.

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Whenyoustarttolookattheprecipitation dataacrossallthreePrairieprovinces,the storydoesn’ttotallysupportthetalk.

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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