Ag Weather Forum

Historic Dryness in Canadian Prairies

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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The majority of Canadian Prairies crop production has taken a major hit from drought this growing season. (AAFC graphic by Nick Scalise)

When the question is raised of "How dry is it?" for the Canadian Prairies, a proper answer would be "driest in my lifetime ... or my parents ... or my grandparents ... or more." If you use the traditional 20-year span for a generation, then we're talking about SIX generations since it's been this dry -- at least in Regina, Saskatchewan. That's right. Regina had the lowest precipitation total for July in 130 years, back to 1887. (I made sure to check that with my smart-phone calculator.)

The implication for crop production is obvious. Saskatchewan is the largest commodity producer in Canada. The severity of drought is comparable to what the U.S. Midwest went through in 2012. Seventy percent of the topsoil across the province is rated short to very short heading into early August. And, in the areas that border the U.S. for both Saskatchewan and Alberta, 100% of all land -- cropland, hay and pasture -- is short to very short. That situation, of course, goes along with the extreme to exceptional drought that the U.S. Northern Plains are in, the worst being in North Dakota and Montana.

Not every single area is dry. Northern Saskatchewan, in sharp contrast to the south, has taken in much above to record precipitation since April 1. But, that doesn't do a great deal for production, as the large majority of crops are produced in the drought areas farther south.

Drought is also a big feature in Manitoba; southern Manitoba has similar well-below-average precipitation. Southeastern Alberta is in a similar situation as well. And, with some exhausting heat in western Canada this week, dryness could intensify in the western Prairies when next week's reports are filed.

It would be comforting to say that the weather pattern offers a change for some better precipitation chances through the middle of the month, but that scenario is not showing up on the forecast charts. Forecast models from the U.S., Canada, and Europe weather agencies all point to a broad ridge west-trough east upper air pattern for North America during the next week to 10 days. With this pattern in effect, the Pacific sector of North America stays very warm with very little precipitation. Meanwhile, the Prairies have a cooler weather pattern, but a predominantly northwesterly air flow inhibits precipitation development, so the forecast has below-normal precipitation through the Aug. 13-15 timeframe.

The irony in this evolution of the season is that it wasn't very long ago that flood worries were quite high, at least in the southeastern portion of the Prairies. And then the dryness set in -- and continued -- and continued.

Production is certain to be lower for all of the Prairies crops this year. The big question now is, "How big a drop will we actually see?"

Bryce Anderson can be reached at bryce.anderson@dtn.com

Follow Bryce Anderson on Twitter @BAndersonDTN

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