Prairie snow still in short supply

Large section of central Saskatchewan has virtually no snow, while levels in other areas are below average

WINNIPEG — Parts of the Sahara Desert received rare snowfall last week, with up to 40 centimetres falling in the Algerian desert town of Ain Sefra.

That freak snow — only the third time in 40 years — made for some fantastic photographs before melting but would be more welcome in Western Canada, where many areas have now seen less moisture than an actual desert this winter.

Snow cover maps of the three prairie provinces show a large section of central Saskatchewan with virtually no snow, while levels elsewhere are generally well below average for this time of year.

Aside from the Peace River region of northern Alberta and British Columbia, precipitation maps compiled by Agriculture Canada show levels well below normal in most crop growing areas.

As of Dec. 31, much of south-central Saskatchewan around Regina was in an “extreme drought” situation. Manitoba was “abnormally dry,” while conditions in Alberta and the rest of Saskatchewan ranged from having no drought indicators to “severe drought.”

Yields turned out better than expected in many parts of Western Canada in 2017, despite a lack of precipitation, as the crops made use of subsoil moisture. However, that moisture is now depleted, and will need to be replenished if there is to be a crop in 2018.

“Soil moisture at the time of freeze-up was poor throughout much of the southern Prairies,” said Agriculture Canada’s Drought Watch department.

Precipitation and warmer than normal temperatures in late November helped improve soil moisture in parts of southern Alberta and western Saskatchewan, according to the Drought Watch analysts.

There is currently minimal snow coverage in the southern Prairies with Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan showing the largest precipitation deficits this winter, according to Drought Watch.

“Without snow cover, soils are exposed to increased moisture loss,” it said.

“At this point, the amount of snow cover is not a tremendous concern for spring soil moisture as most of the soil moisture recharge does not come from winter snow pack, but rather late winter precipitation and early spring rains.…

“The significant concern at this time with low snow pack is that water supplied will not recharge unless we get significant late winter snow.”

There is still plenty of time for more precipitation with the Regina area seeing some freezing rain Jan. 9-10.

“(As a result), producers should be watching their moisture levels closely as spring approaches,” said Drought Watch.

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