Drier weather ahead for Prairies: meteorologist

BRANDON — Drier, with a hint of warmth.

It sounds like a description of a fine wine, but it might also be a summary of a fine forecast for many prairie farmers this season.

Drew Lerner told farmers in Brandon last week that they could expect a warmer, drier growing season than those of recent years.

The World Weather meteorologist admitted that this was also his January forecast for last summer, but this time even more of the indicators for drier conditions are in place.

Many parts of the West did see higher than average moisture last year, but it was dry from August until the end of September for most of the region. The Peace River region of northeastern British Columbia and northwestern Alberta was very dry, and southern Manitoba has seen little moisture since September.

“In weather, you only have to miss by a little bit to strike out,” said the Kansas City forecaster.

“We are moving into a drier, warmer trend. This coming year it is much stronger than last.”

Most of the Prairies feel the effects of weather flowing from the northwest, but what happens locally depends on what’s occurring on the ground.

“There is a lot of moisture in the ground, for the most part. That will keep temperatures from rising too much this summer,” he said.

Existing soil moisture will come in handy to get the crop off to a good start. The “crop’s roots will be able to chase the water in the soil” as warmer and drier conditions arrive later in May and early June.

“I am not saying it isn’t going to rain. There will be regular rainfall, but not the way we have been getting it. We are entering a warmer, drier trend for now.”

Lerner said there are definite wet and dry periods on the Prairies, and some are very long.

“We have seen some 40-year wet periods, but inside that cycle there were some droughty years. This might be one,” he said. “It is the eighth year in a row that Alberta has ended the season with a drier bias, and they have dodged that bullet each spring. Most of Alberta has. But now it has been very warm and the snow is going fast. It could be an early spring for some of you.”

Lerner suggests that the 18-year weather cycle has some merits when it comes to projecting weather behaviour onto a coming year. For example, the region is in a pattern that includes 1961, 1979 and 1997, which were among the driest on record: first, fourth and 17th, respectively.

“But these tell you where the weather will come from (upper atmosphere), not what will happen on the ground,” he said. “We have that soil moisture to (modify) things down here.”

For example, 1979 had a wet spring, despite ending up very droughty,

“So that one is out, as it won’t happen this year,” he said.

“And this is no 1961 drought. But overall, the indicators line up to show a warmer, drier year ahead.”

The Agriculture Canada Palmer Drought Index also points to drier conditions for a large part of Alberta and south-central Manitoba. The method is highly weighted on moisture levels in previous months and indicates that most areas are about average or slightly better, except for a few points in Saskatchewan and along the Alberta border.

Lerner said El Nino has failed again, despite being widely predicted as coming on strong.

“(The Arctic Vortex is) flat for this year and that will keep the cold and hot extremes out of the West. But Ontario and Quebec farmers will have a cold finish to the season.”

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