It has been rather quiet for much of the Canadian Prairies and U.S. Northern Plains since the beginning of December. The pattern has been dry and warm. Precipitation has mostly been below normal, with temperatures above normal. Indications are that the November-to-January period saw temperatures of from one to three degrees Celsius (two to six degrees F) above normal in the southern and central Prairies. Livestock stress has been minimal.
However, the pattern is set to change, just as calving season approaches, which may be stressful on newborn calves. Forecast models point to a change that will allow colder Arctic air, bottled up over Alaska and far northern Canada so far this winter, to pour south into the Prairies starting Feb. 12.
The U.S. forecast model depicts temperatures that will generally run 15 to 20 degrees F (seven to 10 degrees C) below normal for much of next week. This will put overnight low temperatures well below zero F (-17.8 C), along with a few days of highs struggling to get into the single digits Fahrenheit (-15 C). The European model is not quite as severe with the cold, but still suggests well-below-normal temperatures across the entire Prairies during the next week to 10 days.
Livestock stress, calving or not, will increase and producers should think about keeping their hay stocks well supplied.
There is some good news historically, in that this cold pattern will not be as intense as it was roughly a year ago, when temperature anomalies were 30-40 degrees F (15-20 degrees C) below normal. This pattern also will be relatively brief, with indications of easing by around Feb. 18-19. Thus, the Prairies are in line for around a week of the very cold conditions before a near-normal pattern returns.
Models are mixed beyond the two-week time period; so, we will have to watch and see if the return to normal does indeed play out.
John Baranick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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