Depending on where you are located across the Prairies during recent days, temperatures have been either bitter cold or like the middle of spring.
Arctic air has been mostly in control from northern Saskatchewan to northern Manitoba while chinook winds and Pacific air have covered most of Alberta, the southern half of Saskatchewan and far southern Manitoba.
This tale of two seasons is likely to continue for at least several more days as a highly amplified upper air pattern continues across North America through the weekend. A strong ridge across western North America is helping to keep the southwest Prairies unseasonably mild with temperatures during the past few days reaching 12 to 18 degrees Celsius, with even a report of 20 C (68 Fahrenheit) across southern Alberta.
The attached chart from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada shows the highest readings observed across the Prairies during the past seven days.
Pacific air has been moving up and over the Rockies which then slopes down onto the western Prairies and produces the familiar chinook winds that can send temperatures sky-rocketing. If you have friends across northern Saskatchewan or Manitoba, they may be wondering what you talking about, as below- to well-below normal temperatures have been in place during the past few days with readings as cold as -25 to -32 C at night.
While the upper air ridge is covering the southwest Prairies with spring temperatures, it is also working in concert with the polar vortex across Eastern Canada to produce arctic air through central Canada. Some of this bitter cold is making a home through the northeastern Prairies.
As you might guess, there is a strong thermal contrast where the two air masses bump heads; across parts of northern Alberta through central Saskatchewan into southwestern Manitoba, the weather has been shifting back and forth from mild to cold. More of these gyrations in temperature can be expected during the coming days. In the short term, the cold air may push all the way back to the front-range of the Rockies to bring some of the current very mild locations a dose of cold for a day or two.
Model forecasts continue this tug-of-war between warmth and cold into next week, but the amount of disagreement between models begins to rise after about one week. Some solutions favor a return of warmer weather to all parts of the Prairies as we move into the later third of February; others keep some sort of the current pattern going with cold air invading eastern areas at times, while warmth maintains a hold on the west.
The answer is tough to call at this point because the warmer scenario is based more on the idea that the El Nino, which is still strong across the Pacific, will exert more input to the pattern later this month. The other camp says that polar influences are going to have more effect on the North America climate later this month. It is impossible to say which solution is correct at this point and it is possible that some of each could verify.
Until the battle of the polar express and El Nino sort themselves out, we will see more warm weather and bare ground across central and southern Alberta, while bitter cold cycles southward at times across parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba during the next week or so. If you live through the central Prairies, be prepared for a see-saw battle between spring and winter.
Doug Webster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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