Impending storm worsens Prairie flood risk, crop outlook

A snowstorm that looks to sweep across Western Canada’s grain and canola belt would worsen what are already the wettest conditions for this time of year since the 1970s, a Canadian Wheat Board official said Monday.

Environment Canada, the government forecasting agency, issued warnings for snowfall up to 25 cm (9.8 inches) in southern Alberta and western Saskatchewan on Monday, and also flagged potential for heavy snow in southeastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba on Tuesday.

Canada is the world’s top exporter of spring wheat, canola and oats, most of which farmers grow in western provinces. 

Several years of heavy snowfall during the 1970s, which are the closest comparison to current conditions, led in some cases to a smaller seeded area, although weather during May seeding is also crucial, said Bruce Burnett, director of weather and market analysis at the CWB.

“In terms of recent memory, the extent (of snowfall) on the Prairies certainly has been a winter for the record books,” Burnett said.

“There are very few areas without excessive snowpack.”

Record-heavy spring rains last year kept farmers from seeding about 10 million acres and also left the ground saturated ahead of winter.

Heavy snowfall has led Saskatchewan and Manitoba to warn of serious spring flooding. 

The Prairies could see a series of rains or snowfalls in the next two weeks, mixed with some melting and freezing, Burnett said.

Most of the Prairies’ snow looks to melt in April around the same time that U.S. runoff moves north into Manitoba’s Red River valley, said Drew Lerner, president of Kansas City-based World Weather Inc.

“We’ve got a pretty serious thing on our hands here,” he said. “There’s going to be an awful lot of water everywhere.”

If La Nina — a weather phenomenon caused by temperature changes in the Pacific Ocean that generally produces cool, wet winter weather in Western Canada — weakens quickly, warmer temperatures would accelerate flooding, Lerner said.

“La Nina could really help us if it sticks around.”

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