Continuing drought on the Prairies, with a glimpse of hope

Kevin MacKay
·2 min read
Continuing drought on the Prairies, with a glimpse of hope
Continuing drought on the Prairies, with a glimpse of hope

It’s fair to say the Prairies suffered a brutally cold and dry February, but that’s very thoroughly in the rear-view mirror, with the region basking in the sunshine and warmth that has marked the month of March so far.

However, there’s a downside: Prairie farmers need the winter snows as much as spring showers to help replenish the soil ahead of the growing season. But where has that needed precipitation been?

Over the past three months, the majority of the Prairie region has received less than half of its average precipitation over the past three months, some very unwelcome news for the farming community.

Prairie Drought
Prairie Drought

Image: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

One culprit has been persistent high pressure over the region, preventing Pacific moisture from crossing the northern Rockies to fuel clipper systems that might spread snow over the region. Coastal moisture from the U.S. northwest has also been redirected well southward from its normal path, detouring as far away as Arizona and New Mexico.

This storm track leads to Texas and Colorado lows, which are less likely to drive moisture into the Canadian Prairies. This past week, we saw high pressure helping deliver temperatures in the upper teens to the Alberta foothills while, 1,500 km to the south, the Colorado foothills were all but buried in 50 cm of snow.

As we gradually move through the early days of spring over the next month, with Arctic air putting up its final fight against the warm southerly flow, there will, at last, be the chance for some moisture-laden systems for Manitoba. The western Prairies, however, will just have to hope for the weakening of the high pressure to continue, allowing some Pacific moisture into Alberta.

The first signs of that change will occur on Monday as a weak clipper will push Arctic air southward across Alberta, resulting in some upsloping snow for the southern Rockies. This will be welcomed moisture for the headwaters of the Bow and Saskatchewan rivers.

Stay tuned to The Weather Network for the latest forecast updates.