Ag Weather Forum

Dry Early Spring Outlook in Prairies

Joel Burgio
By  Joel Burgio , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
Most of the Canadian Prairies had much-below-normal precipitation during the December-January-February timeframe. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada graphic)

The Canadian Prairies had well-below-normal winter precipitation, especially from central Alberta through central Saskatchewan to Manitoba. Snow cover in the region has varied, but an early-March snowstorm has increased snow cover over the central and east areas. Melted precipitation associated with this snow averaged 0.25 to 1.00 inch and locally heavier.

This is not enough moisture to reverse the wintertime drying trend, especially when most of the region was quite dry during the fall as well, but it will offer some improvement in soil moisture when it melts during the coming weeks. Temperatures during February averaged well-below normal through most areas, but this has begun to change somewhat more recently. We have seen more variable temperatures in the area during the past week or so.

The short-range weather outlook through the middle of March sees a period of drier weather for many locations. Temperatures will turn warmer at the end of this week, and this warming trend should continue well into next week, March 11 through March 17. This will likely help melt the recent snow cover in the region, especially as the length of daylight increases as we approach the equinox. This warmer and drier trend, and the below-normal winter precipitation is helpful in some respects. It will reduce the risk of severe spring flooding based on a slow melt of snow cover and it will favor early spring fieldwork.

The longer-range outlook is more uncertain. The weak La Nina in the equatorial Pacific Ocean is expected to increase the chances for near- to above-normal precipitation and near- to below-normal temperatures during March and April. However, this may not be etched in stone. We have noticed a further weakening of La Nina during the past week or so.

This may mean that the cool, wet March and April weather currently being forecast may not be bad enough to be overly concerning. If this is the case, than the crop region would benefit more from the added spring moisture than it would be hurt by the unsettled weather pattern and cool conditions. The moisture will be needed to help replenish soil moisture for the summer growing season, after winter and autumn dryness.

The high-latitude blocking pattern that we had during February is in the process of weakening. This might limit the risk of further extreme cold events in the near term. This blocking pattern has been around for a while now, so this will need to be watched during the coming weeks for any signs that it might return.

We will also need to monitor the strength and position of the eastern Pacific and western U.S. trough. This trough has been sending low pressure systems into the U.S., and the recent snowstorm that hit the eastern Prairies region is a result of this trough as well. As long as this trough is in the picture, there is at least some risk for further storms to develop and move into the area.

The first chance for any impact from these Pacific-origin lows looks to be beyond the seven-day forecast period, and thus is somewhat uncertain.

Bottom line: The beginning of spring fieldwork looks to be average or early. It is fairly dry overall, so unless there is a good deal more precipitation in the area during March and April, or high-latitude blocking shows up again for it to turn much colder, conditions look favorable for at least an average start to spring activity.

Spring calving still may have some potential stress following the recent snowstorm, and a still-active eastern Pacific pattern with the potential for some stormy occurrences through the rest of March.

Joel Burgio can be reached at joel.burgio@dtn.com

(BA/ES)

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