Prairie winter moisture conditions looking good

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A good portion of the Prairies is seeing above-average precipitation and snow pack levels in the early part of the winter season, which should bode well for the 2013 crop, according to a government climate analyst.

Trevor Hadwen, a specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgroClimate service in Regina, said a large portion of the Prairie region was at about 200 per cent above normal precipitation for the winter period, as of mid-January.

"For example (in the) central Saskatchewan region, we’ve got about 34 millimetres of snow water equivalent there, so if you melted all the snow that was in a vertical profile, you’d have about 34 mm of water," he said.

But, in the extreme south of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, snow pack levels are lower than that.

One region that has had very low snow pack levels is southern Alberta. The region south of Medicine Hat had fewer than 10 mm of snow water equivalent as of mid-January, Hadwen said.

"They have had some warm weather, so the snow pack has been reduced because of that and the water has soaked in a little bit, but there’s still a dry region there," he said.

There are also some concerns about dry soil in the southeastern part of Manitoba because the ground was very parched ahead of the winter freeze-up.

"There were a lot of wild fires there in the summer and fall period in southeastern Manitoba," said Hadwen. "And, that area is still very dry, although they started to receive a little more moisture in some of the areas."

There haven’t been any worries about too much moisture yet this year, but that could change before the snow melts, he said.

"If we all of a sudden start getting less than normal precipitation, it’s not going to be a problem. But, if we continue to get above-normal precipitation there certainly will be some areas of concern," he said.

Moisture conditions for the spring are looking good now, but a lot of factors could still change things.

Producers will be watching how much snowfall the various regions receive between now and the end of winter.

"We do get a lot of snow in February in Western Canada, and it really does determine how the spring is going to start off," Hadwen said.

How early or late spring arrives in Western Canada will also have a big impact on soil moisture come seeding time.

"If we get a really early spring, the snow will likely melt slower and freeze at night and more of the snow will soak into the soil profile," Hadwen said.

"But, if we get a late spring, there’ll be a more rapid melt because nighttime temperatures are warmer and there will be a lot more runoff so the rivers will expand and potentially flood and the soil will not get as much recharge as possible."

– Terryn Shiells writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.