If you’re on the Canadian Prairies, chances are you could likely describe this winter as “meh.” There hasn’t been a lot of snowfall in most areas, and temperatures — until the last week or so — have been fairly mild.
Eric Snodgrass, principal atmospheric scientist with Nutrien Ag Solutions, agrees, calling it a “boring winter” so far — and not exactly what was expected.
“We had a La Niña brewing in the Pacific, and generally that tends to bring up a lot of cold air that comes up through British Columbia, through Alberta, through Saskatchewan, and into Manitoba. And we tend to get a lot of cold air early in the season that lasts through much of winter and we just didn’t see it. If you go back to much of December and January, we had a pretty mild pattern,” Snodgrass says. “So that’s been a bit of a surprise that’s hit a lot of us this year. The cold just really started to come on now that we’ve gotten into the month of February.”
There has been a significant lack of moisture across the Prairies, but really, that dryness extends across the western half of North America.
“Looking at some satellite data we can tell that probably the place that seems to be the driest right now is over in parts of southern Saskatchewan and really into southern Manitoba, and that’s an area where we’re going to have to wait for some melt of snow in the early spring, and hopefully some good rains, just to bring that moisture profile back up,” he says. “At this point, with the really cold weather in February, that cold air is super dry, and the colder you make the air, the less moisture it can contain, so automatically it’s dry when its this cold.”
Can farmers have any hope for some significant precipitation? Snodgrass says although nothing can be predicted with 100 per cent accuracy — especially when it comes to the weather —but right now, it’s not looking likely.
“We’ve got to watch the headwaters of those major river systems. It’s going to be critical for what spring moisture profile will look like, and right now — things are missing,” he says. “If we get a lot of cool water extending off of the southwestern coast of the United States, and some cool water emerging in the Gulf of Alaska — like we are — that is one of the best pre-season signals that the Central Plains, the Canadian Prairies, the Corn Belt, the Great Lake Basin, have increased chance of drought,” he explains. “This is a year I am very concerned about drought.”
Want to hear more? Listen to Snodgrass’s full discussion on the t0pic during this Q&A!