Flood and Drought in Canadian Prairies

As spring planting season approaches, severity of drought conditions across Canada’s southern Prairies is sharply divided, east and west. Most of southern Alberta and adjacent southwestern Saskatchewan were short-changed for winter precipitation, and drought concerns are still top of mind.

Conversely, the severity of drought conditions has largely been reduced in many parts of south-eastern Saskatchewan and adjacent southern Manitoba, according to most recent Drought Monitor report from Agriculture Canada. While this past winter’s snowfall will not fully help soil moisture reserves recover from long-term deficits in those regions, it has allowed for some improvements across the eastern Prairie regions of central Canada.

In fact, some of the eastern Prairies have had more snow this winter than they’ve seen in years. Adding to that, the current major blizzard will only bring additional amounts of moisture to central and eastern regions of Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan. The blizzard is expected to drop large amounts of heavy, wet snow. Temperatures should remain well above zero, so not far below the freezing point. But in Saskatchewan, the province’s Water Security Agency says the spring runoff potential is still below, or well below normal.

In Manitoba, the Red River Valley is currently on flood watch in the face of large amounts of wet, heavy snowfall over the next few days. The Red River is expected to crest over the next week, with its northward flow out of North Dakota. Tyler Freeman, Red River Valley emergency coordinator, says his department is cautiously optimistic, but high winds right now will almost certainly cause some power outages for generators and pumps.

“The one thing that we’re going to facing now is power outages. If we start getting them, then that’s going to be a whole different ballgame. So, we’re just maintaining all of our drainage, making sure that everything’s running properly and the ditches are flowing as best as we can right now. We haven’t seen this amount of snow, and this type of thaw, and just the way it’s been draining this year. So, it’s a little bit of a reminder what a norm is for here.”

The Red River is currently flowing at much higher levels than at this time last year. But its current levels are much closer to long-term averages. Jay Doering at the University of Manitoba, says many people are concerned with the current weather forecast reflecting those of 1997. Doering says that he does expect to see some isolated flooding. And he says that current weather conditions are similar, but the massive flooding of 1997 also triggered major infrastructure improvements for major Red River flood zones.

“We’ve come a long way since 1997. I don’t see their properties being at threat, they’ve all been built to 1997, plus two feet. But people who have their houses on pads, or ring-dykes may, again, find themselves cut off.”

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