Above-average snowfall across much of Alberta this winter may help replenish soil moisture when it melts.
Last year’s dry weather and open fall had allowed farmers to harvest a bin buster of a crop.
However, neither Alberta Agriculture nor Alberta Environment are willing to predict spring soil moisture levels, given that spring snowstorms are typical.
“Things were looking a little bit dry (in the fall), but a lot of areas of the province got snow in November, and it came regularly for the rest of the winter,” said Alberta Agriculture crop specialist Neil Whatley.
“So soil moisture, from the people I’ve been talking to, is pretty good except where it has blown off, sort of east of Drumheller and that area.”
The department’s soil moisture map based on spring wheat fields shows a drier area extending south of Lloydminster into Special Area 5 along the Saskatchewan border.
It has soil moisture at 10 to 20 millimetre depths and is the driest in the province.
The wettest region is around Whitecourt, with other pockets along the Rocky Mountains further south, which show moisture at an estimated 120 to 140 mm.
Soil moisture near Edmonton and Calgary is estimated at depths of 20 to 60 mm, while in the far south, soil is wet 60 to 80 mm down, with pockets at 80 to 100 mm.
Those estimates haven’t changed since January.
Alberta Environment issued a spring runoff advisory March 10, which remained in effect as of March 17. Rapid snow melt due to warm temperatures last week was expected to cause overland flooding and ponding.
Most the province has a “much above average” rating in terms of the spring runoff outlook. However, snow on the province’s southern plains and the lower elevations of the Cypress Hills had mostly melted as of March 14.
The department said mountain snow pack is “generally average.” As of March 1, snow in the Oldman River basin ranged from slightly below to slightly above average, depending on location, and the Bow River basin was also rated as average to above in the southern edge.
Mountain snow pack affecting the Red Deer, North Saskatchewan and Athabasca river basins is highly variable, the department said.
The spring melt has begun in Saskatchewan, and officials said last week they are watching the central part of the province for possible flooding.
The area of most concern is around Prince Albert, where water caused significant problems last year. The area is expected to see well above normal runoff this spring.
A larger area, including Saskatoon, North Battleford, Meadow Lake, La Ronge, Nipawin and Melfort, should see above normal runoff.
John Fahlman, director of hydrology and ground water service for the Water Security Agency, said the northern part of the grain belt has had up to two times as much snow as usual.
That, combined with the wet conditions of last year and potential spring precipitation, causes the flood threat.
Fahlman said it’s important to keep in mind that situations change.
Last year, for example, several areas were identified as places to watch.
“As it turned out, the melt dragged on well into April,” he said. “There was a lot of loss to sublimation (evaporation) and infiltration into the ground.”
A slow melt will reduce the threat, he said.
Ken Cheveldayoff, minister responsible for the WSA, said the agency is meeting with municipalities to make sure they are prepared.
He said 2,000 flood prevention and mitigation structures have been built throughout the province at a cost of $35 million.
“Independent analysis shows for every dollar we spend on mitigation we save about $20 in disaster costs,” Cheveldayoff said.
Emergency preparedness officials are ready if needed.