EDMONTON — Inadequate spring precipitation could make it difficult to establish crops in parched southern prairie fields this coming crop season, and late frost events in eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba may cause further problems, according to weather forecaster Drew Lerner.
“The spring season is going to be a challenge for a lot of locations that are in this very dry state. I do not think it’s going to be absolutely dry in the spring, but I do think that getting the kind of snow and rain in there to bolster soil moisture in a significant manner is going to be really tough to do,” Lerner said after his presentation at FarmTech in Edmonton.
He said dry southern areas from east-central Alberta through west-central Saskatchewan will get enough spring precipitation to warrant planting, but farmers will likely worry constantly about subsoil moisture and whether those plants will stay viable after they emerge.
In northern Alberta and into the Peace region, there is already plenty of subsoil moisture and snow and it’s going to be a very wet start to spring, he said.
“The good news for them is that even though precipitation will come and go as we get into spring, when we get into the summer it’ll start drying down a little bit better. The challenge for them is getting into the fields when it’s time to plant,” Lerner said.
As spring rolls into summer, regular rainfalls with average accumulations will occur in most regions.
“Saskatchewan and Manitoba will end up with a regular occurrence of rainfall, and probably some strong thunderstorms. Severe weather might be an interesting situation to deal with in the heart of Saskatchewan in particular,” Lerner said.
“Alberta may continue to have a bit of a drier bias during the middle of summer. When we get into late summer, like the second part of August, when it’s starting to get to harvest time, it might start raining a little bit better again. Nothing exceptionally great, but a little bit of a going concern,” he said.
Lerner’s forecast is based on how he expects a number of weather patterns to materialize and interact, including the ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska, La Nina, the solar cycle and the 18-year cycle.
He sees a weak La Nina continuing through the summer and said the year before a solar minimum is usually cold.
However, he said weather patterns can develop based on many variables, so the weather they bring can change, except for the solar cycle, which is currently following a cooling trend.
“The Gulf of Alaska has got cold water in it. That’s what caused the drought last year. There is also dryness down in the U.S. and we need to get rid of that so a ridge of high pressure doesn’t get overly excited down there and come up into Canada. But the 18-year cycle by itself will probably generate a pretty good environment,” Lerner said.
Cold swings in spring temperatures may cause problems for early-seeded crops in eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba.
Lerner said the extreme cold bouts the Prairies have experienced this winter will continue until the third week of February, then it will come back in mid-March and stay until late March or the first week of April.
“We’ll go into it (cold weather) again in May sometime. Now that event might set us back in the planting, and some guys that might have gotten into the fields early might be faced with a frost or freeze threat,” he said.
Lerner is concerned about late freezes this spring, but he said it’s too early to know for certain.
“I’m also concerned that the solar cycle and the 18-year cycle have a cooler bias for the growing season in general. Not that it’s going to be a cold year all the way through because coolness comes and goes. There is always going to be that risk that we will see a late season frost event or an early season frost event.”