Despite recent volatility, all signs point to 'near-normal' weather for Alberta spring

·3 min read
A chinook arch at sunset on eastbound Glenmore Trail going over the Bow River.  (Submitted by Samana McEwen - image credit)
A chinook arch at sunset on eastbound Glenmore Trail going over the Bow River. (Submitted by Samana McEwen - image credit)

March can be a bit of a weather wild card.

Is it spring? Is it STILL winter?

As happens in March, it may very well be both. As also happens in March, the Weather Network has released its spring forecast.

According to Kyle Brittain, the Alberta bureau chief for the Weather Network, things are looking pretty average for the coming spring.

Average by Calgary standards.

You know, like late spring, late May, that prime spring weather.

"Spring is a seasonal change, right? Between March, April, May, we start out cold, and we end off warm. But there's everything in between," Brittain told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"You get toward late May, May long [weekend] is typically what we're looking at for the last real chance of snow. And it can sometimes come even later. So I usually, as a rule of thumb, keep the snow brush in the car until May long."

Brittain said despite this recent cold snap in February, we had a fairly mild winter in Alberta.

"People usually have a bit of recency bias….It was really cold in February," he said.

"But... overall, the winter was warmer than average, which somewhat defied expectations given the fact that we have ongoing La Nina conditions, which typically give us fairly high confidence that we're going to have a cold and snowy winter based on past years."

This winter also brought thundersnow, and just the other day, lightning and thunder.

"Lightning and thunder in Alberta in the winter is very rare, but not completely unheard of — it tends to happen once every year, maybe every second year, somewhere in the province following that warm Pacific air we have at the surface," Brittain said.

"The interesting thing about this lightning that we saw the other day, though, is that it was what we call self-initiated, upward lightning. And that's basically just the result of these tall, man-made structures reaching high into the sky, very close to the charged region of these clouds that were passing overhead."

Brittain cited the communication towers up on Broadcast Hill, the high rises downtown, and even churning wind turbines to the east and south of Calgary.

"Those have generated upward flashes of lightning," he said. "So it's interesting to think that had these clouds passed over a different part of the province, we may not have seen any lightning whatsoever."

The thundersnow event also got a big reaction.

"That was my first time ever seeing wintertime thundersnow in Calgary, so it was very exciting," he said. "So, you know, the thunderstorm season doesn't typically start for another two months here."

As for the coming spring, Brittain said we are seeing slightly drier than average conditions across central and northern Alberta — and that could lead to heightened wildfire risk later in the spring, as well as lower than usual flooding risk.

"But overall, we're looking at near normal, possibly slightly below normal temperatures toward late spring, changeable, some warmer spells like we're seeing this week," he said.

"Precipitation trends are going to be relatively normal across the prairies throughout the spring, maybe slightly higher than normal in the mountain parks."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.