A winter that favored clipper systems that moved through the region helped to reduce drought across northern areas of the Canadian Prairies. In April, a trough in western North America favored large, deep storm systems that tracked from the Northern U.S. Plains through central Canada. They brought heavy rain and snow, almost breaking a full meter of snow in a mid-April blizzard in Manitoba.
Combined, the two features have essentially eliminated drought across the northern half of Alberta, northern and eastern Saskatchewan, and all of Manitoba to start off the 2022 crop year. A year prior, these areas were dealing with drought of varying degrees. The drought was deepest in Manitoba where the drought monitor categorized roughly half of the region's growing areas in D3 or extreme drought at the end of April 2021.
In contrast, southern Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan have seen some limited improvement in the drought since last fall, but are still stuck with widespread areas of D2-D3 or severe to extreme drought from Red Deer to Saskatoon and all points south. That is a big change from April 2021 where these areas were seeing mostly little to moderate drought conditions.
The differences have been very noticeable in the crop reports issued by the three provinces. The extreme wetness in Manitoba delayed the issuance of the province's first crop report by a week as no seeding had yet been accomplished. According to its first report released on May 10, heavy precipitation during the last month, up to 500% of normal in the Central region, has caused flooding not only in the Red River Basin, but also overland flooding around the province. As of this week, 26 rural municipalities have declared States of Emergency from flooding that has resulted in infrastructure damage and road washouts. Seeding so far is limited to the Southwest district and is only at 2% complete. The five-year average is 21% complete. The provincial government is expecting long-season crops like corn and soybeans to be replaced by shorter-season crops like canola, and longer-season varieties to be substituted by shorter-season varieties as well. That is a distinct possibility given the delays in planting for an area that has a short season anyway.
In Saskatchewan, the latest report released on May 5 indicated that northern and eastern areas that were hit by precipitation in April have seen their planting become delayed. As of May 2, Saskatchewan is only 1% complete compared to the five-year average of 5%. Dry weather for the first few days of May might have allowed seeding to pick up the pace a bit. But more widespread rain showers since May 6 have probably put those plans on hold. Soil moisture is variable across the province and is rated rather poorly overall in the latest report, but that could change with the recent showers. Still, the best rains during the last several days have been again over northern and eastern stretches of the province, while southwestern areas continue to have unfavorable soil moisture for early crop growth. Planting has progressed at a normal pace in this section of the province, but is behind elsewhere.
In Alberta, the picture is much the same. Where showers have been more persistent and temperatures have been lower across the north, it has been difficult to get into the field to seed. On the latest crop report issued May 6, total seeding across the province was listed at 12.2% complete. That is behind last year's progress of 17.4%, but ahead of the five-year average of 9.6%. The drier weather conditions have led to some better seeding progress across the South region, where over 36% of the crop is seeded. The Central region is a little ahead of the average pace at roughly 6% seeded. Meanwhile, the northern zones of the province are behind schedule in seeding. Soil moisture reflects these differences as well with the South region rated at 31.2% poor.
The start of the current season is a big contrast to last year for many areas of the Canadian Prairies. Drought has decreased significantly across the north and east, but has degraded in the southwest. The wetter areas are having difficulty with planting, and may need to change tactics to accommodate a shorter season, but the fuller soil profiles are a positive change from last season. The opposite is true in the southwest. While the planting is going smoothly overall, the decreased soil moisture will weigh on the minds of producers as drought continues its grip on the area.
The forecast during the next couple of weeks indicates that the wetter pattern will continue, not only for northern and eastern areas, but also getting into southwestern areas as well. Precipitation will be spottier and total amounts over southern Alberta may not eclipse 25 millimeters in all areas (1 inch) until a stronger storm system moves through late next week around May 19-20. But the continued chances for rain will limit seeding progress in Manitoba and likely much of Saskatchewan as well. Models are indicating that a storm system moving through May 12-14 is likely to bring about 20 to 40 millimeters (0.8 to 1.6 inches) of rain to the eastern half of Saskatchewan and most of Manitoba. In thunderstorms, those amounts are likely to be higher. Temperatures will be borderline cold enough to produce snow in parts of eastern Saskatchewan from the system. Colder air and a couple of disturbances that follow could bring more showers through the area until the late-week system that is likely to be heavier with the shower potential across the entire Prairies region. It will be difficult for much of the Prairies that are already too wet to dry out prior to the end of May.
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John Baranick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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