Rain in southern Manitoba in January? Many days of above-zero temperatures in Winnipeg from December to the third week of January? What is going on here? I have never experienced such warm temperatures at this time of year. The screengrab of my phone above — taken January 2019 — is more what I’m used to. This is the kind of screenshot you take to send to relatives who live in the West Coast or eastern Ontario.
The recent conditions have been a welcome surprise as I was bracing for a La Niña winter, which usually means colder and snowier conditions across Western Canada. Were these weather patterns odd?
I found the answer to that question last week. On January 14, I had the opportunity to host the webinar Markets Outlook Summit: 2021 Overview, presented by MarketsFarm, and the first of a four-part series. MarketsFarm director of weather and markets information, Bruce Burnett, kicked off the session by looking at La Niña and how it has affected weather conditions in Western Canada and globally.
He’s the first to point out there has been mixed signals — some agencies have officially declared a La Niña event while others have not. Also, the exceptionally mild temperatures from late November to mid-January, especially in Western Canada, have not been typical for a La Niña winter. For example, temperatures in December were 3 to 5 C above average and lots of areas of the Prairies saw new average highs for that month. This is exactly the opposite of what we would expect for La Niña conditions in Western Canada, said Burnett.
There was a large storm that moved from northern Montana through southern Alberta and most of Saskatchewan, but largely missed Manitoba and southeastern areas of Saskatchewan. “That’s going to play out in terms of how we’re seeing the precipitation recovery during the winter,” said Burnett.
Precipitation has been close to normal in the western Prairies this winter. However, the eastern Prairies are extremely dry after receiving near-record-low precipitation during December. For winter precipitation, from November 1 through January 11, Burnett also noted the following:
- Above-normal precipitation in areas throughout most of Saskatchewan;
- Higher-than-normal precipitation in areas concentrated north of Saskatoon and a little bit southwest of Saskatoon;
- Drier-than-normal areas included northern Alberta, especially northeastern Alberta, into the southern Peace region as well as in Manitoba, which has been the driest region so far this winter.
There’s significant concern the eastern third of Saskatchewan and most of Manitoba doesn’t have adequate snow cover. Also, the warmer temperatures mean higher evaporation rates than are normal at this time of year because snow cover would normally prevent that, said Burnett.
“Moisture is going to be the theme for the upcoming year, and the areas we’re most concerned about are in the eastern Prairies,” he said.
During last year’s growing season, from April to October, most of Alberta, especially northern Alberta and parts of the northern Peace River region, received above-average precipitation. Those areas will still have some subsoil moisture levels. In southern Alberta, there was significant production and good crops in many regions, so most of the soil moisture was used up, added Burnett. That area will be going into this winter with drier-than-normal soil reserves, so that’s another area to keep an eye on.
However, it’s in the critical areas of central through eastern Saskatchewan and most of Manitoba that subsoil moisture levels are very low. And due to the winter precipitation situation, “timely rains will be needed as farmers move into the spring season for planting this year’s crop.”
And what will the conditions be like this spring? “It’s not an ideal forecast for planting this year,” said Burnett. There’s a significant chance for below-normal temperatures to start the spring planting season off, which looks to be concentrated mostly in the northern Prairies.
On the positive side, moisture levels look fairly normal and the only areas that have a significantly higher chance of below-normal precipitation this spring are those along the Alberta-Montana border. “We’re going to see essentially a cooler-than-normal start and I don’t see warmer-than-normal temperatures this summer as long as this La Niña or transition to a neutral stage remains,” said Burnett.
I’ll be focusing on more of his take-home messages about La Niña and the effects on global weather and wheat and durum market outlooks from the webinar in my next few columns. Also, I’ll provide you with take-aways from Mike Jubinville’s presentation on canola and soybean market outlooks. Mike, a senior markets analyst with MarketsFarm, was also a guest speaker at the January 14 webinar.
How’s the soil moisture in your region heading into winter? Drop me a line at [email protected].