Air quality continues to be poor in the Red Deer area due to B.C. forest fire smoke. File photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff

Late spring, early winter, scorching summer — 2018 had it all

Much of 2018 was a year many — especially farmers — would like to forget

Winter seemed to feel at home in Central Alberta in 2018.

It was reluctant to leave in the spring and only too anxious to arrive come fall. Everybody was still bundling up in April and the snow shovels came out in September before fall had officially begun.

The year started off ominously.

Those hoping to hit the sledding hills and ice rinks during Christmas holidays last year were out of luck with temperatures plummeting to the -30s. Factor in wind chill, and it felt like the -40s.

Nature put an exclamation on the cold snap on the last day of 2017, when the temperature felt like -46 C with the wind chill, making it the coldest day of the year.

Quite an exit.

It stayed cold through much of the rest of winter with extreme cold warnings issued in January and February. The average temperature in February was -17 C, well below the usual -10 C.

Into April, the Prairies remained much colder than normal, with meteorologists blaming it on a polar vortex.

When spring finally came in, it appeared to be in catch-up mode, serving up a record breaking heat snap.

Environment Canada pegged the average temperature in Red Deer at 13.4 C, beating the old record of 13.1 C set in 1998 based on 104 years of records. The normal average temperature for Red Deer is 9.7 C.

Hot, dry conditions continued throughout the spring, playing havoc with spring hay crops, which had far below average yields.

At the end of Juy, temperatures soared so high — with daily highs of 29 C expected — Environment Canada was prompted to issue a heat warning for central Alberta.

August saw temperatures soar up to 36 C, prompting more heat advisories.

And then came the smoke warnings. A series of health advisories were issued throughout August as smoke from B.C. wildfires made its way into Alberta, casting a noticeable pall on the city.

By the third week of August, Red Deer had set the record for smokiest year ever, with 228 hours of smoke recorded since May 1, the highest number recorded since 1938.

In 2017, the city recorded 198 hours of smoke, breaking a previous 61-year record of 87 smoke hours between May and September. Between 1981 and 2010, on average, the city recorded 10 smoke hours.

The switch from sun worshipping to snow shovels came indecently quickly.

Sept. 13 could have been Dec. 13, with snow blanketing the city. It wasn’t the freak, gone-in-a-day kind of snow either. A week later, Environment Canada was issuing snowfall warnings for central Alberta.

In September, the daytime highs and nightime lows averaged 6 C, to make it the fourth coldest September in 106 years of data. The 30-year average for September is 9.9.

There was no end in sight in October either. Red Deer even had to pitch in to help our neighbours to the south dig out by sending a pair of snow plows to Calgary.

The early start to winter cut golf seasons short and was especially hard on central Alberta’s farmers who could only sit and wait for the snow to melt so they could begin harvesting.

Conditions would improve later in the month and farmers were able to get most of their crops off, although quality was lower than hoped for in many cases.

By then, the damage was done for many.

“Everything happened at the wrong time,” is how Quinton Beaumont, agricultural services director for the County of Stettler, described the situation. In the spring, when farmers needed moisture there was drought. In the fall, when dry conditions were needed for harvest it seemed to never stop snowing.

Feed prices soared, and those trying to cull their beef herds saw cattle prices plummet.

The early start to winter was not bad news for all. Canyon Ski Area was open by Nov. 8, its earliest start day ever. It was the first ski hill to open in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Canyon even beat by a day or two popular nearby ski resorts such as Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Nakiska Ski Area.

Considering the fall, December proved to be relatively benign with temperatures more or less what one would expect.

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