Spring proves elusive in Central Alberta

Central Albertans drooling over the thought of stashing away those well-worn winter boots now that April is on the very near horizon may have to wait a little longer.

Central Albertans drooling over the thought of stashing away those well-worn winter boots now that April is on the very near horizon may have to wait a little longer.

While Old Man Winter has been kicking up a storm of above normal snow levels and bone-chilling temperatures over the past five months, records show Red Deer normally sees a fairly high amount of snow — an average of 14 cm — in April as well.

“Don’t take your snow tires off yet,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Dan Kulak with a laugh. He said the average snowfall for Red Deer in May is also 8.5 cm and the greatest one day record snowfall for Red Deer was on May 14, 1938 where 33 cm piled up in 24 hours.

With that in mind, looking ahead to Central Alberta’s spring season is like looking into clouded crystal ball.

“The seasonal forecast that we have is full of uncertainties and assumptions. This season’s upcoming forecast for the prairies — well we actually don’t even have one . . . There’s just not enough of what we can call a signal to suggest which way the weather is going to go,” Kulak said.

This winter has been one of the most brutal the area has seen in years, whirling in at the onset of November and smashing records by New Year’s Eve.

The typical winter season sees about a total of 120 cm in Red Deer, said Kulak.

As of March 26, there had been approximately 160 cm, with another 5 to 10 cm expected by the end of Sunday.

The total is mostly thanks to a relentless dump of snow in November and December that saw about 117 cm fall.

That crunched the 1924 record of 104.9 cm for the November-December snowfall.

The average for those two months over the past 30 years has been about only 30 cm, Kulak added.

November alone was the snowiest month ever recorded by Environment Canada (which has been collecting data since 1904) for Red Deer, coming in at 62.5 cm while the mean average for snowfall is 16.6.

This broke the 1996 record of 56 cm. December didn’t make the cut however, with only 54 cm falling, well short of the 1924 record of 88 cm for that month.

Just over 20 cm blanketed Red Deer in January followed by a mere 2.6 cm throughout February and 29.6 from March 1 to 26 (also above the monthly average of 20.4 cm).

In regards to the total amount of snow this season since the first flake to the end of March, Kulak said he didn’t have access to the information to see how it compared to past winter records.

It was more brittle season than usual as the mean temperatures for each month this winter — with the exception of balmy January — were also well below the typical average temperatures based on data over a 30 year period.

Meanwhile, the massive snow loads wreaked havoc on Central Alberta roofs and roads for much of the winter.

Snow removal was kicked into high gear at the city, triggering an unheard of two surface plowing blitzes followed by a full plowing of all residential streets down to the pavement in mid January that took two months to complete.

On top of that, both of the city’s snow storage sites reached capacity by January and a temporary third site had to be opened up for the first time.

“It’s has been difficult . . . It’s been about 65 per cent more snow than we normally get,” said city public works manager Greg Sikora. He estimated there was still roughly 700,000 cubic metres of snow at the storage sites as of Friday.

He said the department went from a team of 30 staff handling the streets and trails in the city to just under 100 to keep on top of the situation.

Public works is now well into its pothole campaign, closing in on the 2,000 mark, Sikora added. The city fills anywhere from 11,000 to 14,000 in a year on average.

Crews have been busy clearing frozen catch basins for the past month in preparation of the spring thaw and Sikora said things are in good shape for proper drainage as more snow begins to melt.

April 6 is also the tentative start of the street sweeping campaign, he said.