Timing of La Nina to play key role in Prairie moisture

Averaged sea surface temperatures and sea surface temperature anomalies worldwide for the week centred on Feb. 3. (CPC.ncep.noaa.gov)

CNS Canada –– As the El Nino weather phenomena slowly loosens its grip across Western Canada, many weather watchers say its impact has been somewhat underwhelming.

However, one meteorologist said its lingering presence, coupled with the pending arrival of the La Nina weather event, may still play a large role in determining how much moisture the Prairie provinces receive this spring.

“Many weather experts believe El Nino has peaked and may already be starting to weaken,” said Drew Lerner of World Weather Inc. in Kansas City.

But while that may be true, he said the timing of its departure will still have a big impact on Western Canada.

“The longer El Nino takes in dissipating, the higher the potential is that we will see a dry spring in these western areas” of western Saskatchewan, and the northern and southernmost parts of Alberta, he said. “Below-average amounts of rain and snow will prevail.”

However, at the same time, Lerner stressed that the arrival of La Nina — cool water in the Pacific Ocean — will also have a big say, but its effects will be tied to when that system starts to take hold.

“If we get a transition into a La Nina by June it will have huge implications,” he said.

However, he cautioned, there is a chance it won’t arrive until late 2016 or 2017.

“The jury is still out on when we will see that evolution, I think most of us think it will be fairly late in the year,” he said.

His official stance is that farmers will struggle with moisture in the northern and southernmost parts of Alberta and western Saskatchewan through April and into a big part of May.

“I don’t expect the pattern to improve until we get into late May or June and at that time we’ll see better rainfall,” said Lerner.

That is unfortunate, he said, as much of that area still carries a moisture deficiency from last growing season, running “anywhere from 50 to 120 millimetres.”

As for the eastern Prairies, Lerner said the soil moisture content is “quite a bit better.” He predicted temperatures heading into the spring will be a little cooler than those in Alberta.

“The further east you are on the Prairies and the higher the potential is that we’ll see some chilly days off and on going into the heart of spring.”

If La Nina does arrive in the summer, it will still help much of Western Canada with increased rainfall.

“If we don’t get it, we will still get rainfall, but it won’t be as impressive.”

Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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