February has again been a mild month across Western Canada with temperatures above- to well-above normal across Alberta and Saskatchewan, while Manitoba has seen some colder weather at times to bring readings to near- to above-normal levels.
Precipitation has followed the El Nino pattern with most areas in the 50% to 75% of normal category. It's time to look ahead and see if February's weather will extend into March.
El Nino is slowly decaying across the equatorial Pacific and the sun is getting higher in the sky each day, but will the weather across Western Canada react differently to these changes during the new month that is almost here? Most signs say we will see more of the same weather patterns during the next several weeks that have brought us generous amounts of mild weather and less-than-average precipitation for most of the winter.
We know that a strong El Nino brings mild weather to Western Canada and that has happened this winter thus far, but why are we not expecting to see some change to the mild, dry pattern with El Nino noticeably weakening of late? Part of the answer lies with the lag time between when El Nino diminishes and when the atmosphere gets the message.
Past data shows that as an El Nino weakens, the atmosphere doesn't react right away to the weakening El Nino. In fact, the Climate Prediction Center states that the lag time can be a few months before the atmosphere starts to return to a more normal state. The Pacific is a vast body of water and it takes time for the cooling process of the ocean and atmosphere to take place; thus, it will be a few months before we see El Nino become weak or even shift to neutral conditions.
El Nino was amongst the strongest on record earlier this winter and despite some weakening of late still remains quite strong; therefore, we expect March to show many characteristics we have seen during the past several months. Mild, dry conditions should be the prevailing theme across Western Canada next month and the accompanying forecast chart from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction agree.
Another part of the answer lies the overall weather pattern that has been in place of late across North America and with little change to this pattern expected for the first two of March. A mean ridge has been covering Western Canada of late, but has been far enough east to deflect most of any arctic air that has been developing across eastern Canada at times to our east.
The result has been mild weather with frequent Chinook winds and only weak moisture starved weather systems. Most of the mid-range models that extend into the first two weeks of March show little change to this pattern which would continue to favor milder and drier than average weather for Western Canada, but with some chance eastern areas will turn colder a little more often than the west for brief periods.
Snow depths are below normal where it exists across the Prairies with bare ground across some western areas. Given the current forecast we would think that snow cover might make an early exit this year but there is still a long time to go before real spring gets going. One or two late season snows in April or early May could be helpful from a soil moisture standpoint, but delay fieldwork operations. Any late-season snow is just speculation at this point, but Mother Nature has been known to throw a few curve balls in the past.
Doug Webster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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