With spring starting to make itself felt across the region, the last thing most people want to hear is about snow. I guess I’m not most people. Springtime across the Prairies tends to bring some of the biggest snowfalls of the year, so I thought I would dig back into the weather records and share with you some of the biggest spring snowstorms recorded across agricultural Alberta.
Before we look at some of these big snowfalls, let’s examine why we can experience such heavy snowfalls in the spring. To get a lot of precipitation there needs to be a lot of moisture in the air. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. During spring we start to see temperatures warm, especially to our south, and this allows the amount of moisture in the atmosphere to increase.
The other ingredient we need to produce lots of precipitation is some way of wringing out all the moisture. This happens when the air cools and forces all the moisture to condense and fall out of the clouds. If temperatures are warm enough, the precipitation will fall as rain but if the atmosphere can mix in enough cold air, then snow will fall.
During our spring, Arctic regions are still covered in snow and ice and there is usually still a good source of cold air. Warm, moist air can build to the south and occasionally everything can come together in just the right amounts to produce big-time snows.
I wish I had the time to check out the weather records for every location in agricultural Alberta, but unfortunately I don’t. So I have broken down the records by looking at the long-term weather records for the two main cities in Alberta, Calgary and Edmonton. For this study, I only looked at snowfall and did not take into account any combination of rainfall and wet snow, as this would mostly have been recorded as rainfall at any of the Environment Canada stations.
Let’s begin by looking at Calgary. April snow is not unknown to residents of this part of Alberta. Looking back through Calgary’s weather records I was actually very surprised at just how many snowfall days occur during April. The biggest April snowstorm I was able to find occurred back in 1932, when between April 20 and April 21 an amazing 49.3 cm of snow fell! Then only one year later an April storm hit on April 15 and lasted through to the 17th. During this storm nearly 46 cm of snow fell. Another 40-plus cm snowstorm occurred in 1966 on April 25-27 when 45 cm fell. More recently, back in 2003, between April 26 and 28, 38.5 cm of snow fell. This storm recorded the second-largest one-day snowfall total for April when 32.2 cm fell on April 26. The largest single-day snowfall total for April occurred during the 1932 storm, when on April 21 an absolutely amazing 45.7 cm of snow fell!
Farther north in the Edmonton region, the number of spring snowfalls is not as great as the Calgary region, but Edmonton has still seen its fair share of large April snowstorms. The largest April snowstorm occurred in 1955, when between April 18 and 20 a whopping 47.5 cm of snow fell. Yet another big April storm hit in 1948 when 43 cm of snow fell between April 1 and 3. The third-biggest storm occurred a bit more recently, on April 6-7 of 1991 when nearly 41 cm of snow fell, with over 36 cm falling on April 6. This is currently the second-largest one-day snowfall record for April. The largest one-day total occurred on April 19, 1955 when 38 cm fell. The most recent big snow event was in 2002 when 28 cm fell on April 14 and 15.
So, as the stats point out, some of the largest snowstorms to hit this part of the world have occurred in April. Are we going to see a repeat this year? I really hope not, but as the weather goes, you just never know. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that April ends up bringing us perfect weather and that we enter May with nice mild temperatures and soil moisture conditions just where we want them to be.
Thelargestsingle-day snowfalltotalforApril occurredduringthe 1932storm,whenon April21anabsolutely amazing45.7cmof snowfell!