Manitoba’s mild weather, little snow could spell trouble for farmers in the spring: experts

As the climate evolves and changes, experts say Manitoba winters and springs could be shorter and milder, but this may be a concern for the agriculture industry. Joanne Roberts has the story.

The mild weather in Manitoba this winter could have grave consequences moving forward, weather experts say.

“December was the third warmest on record in Winnipeg, and (in) some parts of Manitoba it was the warmest on record, so overall a really mild start to the winter,” said Scott Kehler, president and chief scientist at Weatherlogics.

El Niño – a periodic weather system that brings warm weather to much of North America – is partly to blame for the warmer and drier than normal conditions.

“El Niño is the water temperature in the central Pacific Ocean. When the water in that area is warmer than normal, that tends to affect global weather patterns,” Kehler told CityNews. “Because the Pacific Ocean is such a large body of water, it will control the jet stream, especially across Western Canada.

“That allows for warmer temperatures to prevail across this part of the country.”

There have only been two Decembers on record in Manitoba that were hotter than this year’s: 1877 and 1997.

Experts weigh in on Manitoba’s warm front. (Courtesy: Government of Canada)

David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, says El Niño was responsible for that warm front in 1997. He sees parallels between this winter and the one 26 years ago.

“Typically what see in (Manitoba) is El Niños tend to bring less Arctic air and more Pacific air,” said Phillips, who works out of Barrie, Ont. “That was December of 1997, temperature was almost the same as this year. That was even warmer than this past December, but you had about the same amount of snow. You had a little bit more snow sitting on the ground at the end of the winter. As time went on it… it continued to be milder than normal.

“You’re still influenced by ocean bodies, and so warm waters thousands of kilometres away can affect the weather at Portage and Main.”

Kehler believes the spring months will be mild as well.

“Whenever you don’t have a lot of snow, that makes it easy to warm up in the spring because the snow will melt quickly, and then the dark, bare ground will heat up quicker than a snow-covered ground,” he said.

“With the lack of snow cover, there’s a decent chance that we’ll have a warmer spring.”

Scott Kehler, president and chief scientist at Weatherlogics, says Manitoba is in for a milder spring. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

‘Crops may suffer’

But while some may be celebrating, this mild weather could have significant impacts on Manitoba’s agriculture industry.

“For farmers, they’re looking for a lot more snow because when you don’t have any snow cover in the winter, that means come springtime there’s not that recharge of soil moisture,” Kehler said. “Last summer parts of Manitoba got pretty dry and so if they don’t have any snow, it’ll make it easier to get started in the spring. But of course, crops may suffer if they don’t have enough moisture throughout the growing season.”

Phillips says Manitoba may be helped by an increase in precipitation in the fall – 10 per cent above normal levels. Most of that rain fell in October.

“The moisture that got into the ground is perhaps still there,” Phillips said. “I think that’s going to help the early seeding, but we just have to wait and see.”

WATCH: Winnipeg seasonal businesses affected by warmer weather

The situation is “not great for agriculture,” echoed Jay Doering, a retired professor of civil engineering. “The farmers were complaining about a lack of precipitation in the fall.

“But you know, we can only take what Mother Nature gives us. We do tend to go through wet and dry spells and don’t really spend a lot of time around the average, which would be normal.”

Role of climate change

Doering says climate change is also playing a role in the warmer-than-usual weather patterns.

“We know that climate change has impacts on the climate,” he said. “We’re seeing milder winters, we’ve seen springs that have brought us an awful lot of back-to-back low-pressure systems, primarily Colorado Lows. I’m thinking of 2022. And this sort of volatility, these swings in the weather are what the experts say we can expect from climate change.”

Jay Doering, a retired professor of civil engineering, says climate change is also playing a role in the warm weather. (Steve Anderson, CityNews)

Phillips says usually, winter “comes early and stays late.” But this year, “it is just absolutely missing.”

“Across the country it’s the same story: where is winter? We’re sending out search parties looking for it,” he said.

“It’s been just absolutely mind-boggling. And everywhere it’s the same situation, it’s not just in Winnipeg or Manitoba. It’s not just in the central part of the country. It’s everywhere.”

Phillips is predicting shorter winters and shorter spring weather, beginning earlier and ending earlier. The Environment Canada senior climatologist says Earth’s climate is evolving and changing long-term.

“Winters aren’t what they used to be,” said Phillips. “Old-timers have always said that and they’re so right about that. It’s still going to be the land of ice and cold and snow but it’s going to be a shorter season. We’re going to have years like this where you got El Niño combined with the fact that we had the warmest summer on record in Canada, the warmest year in the world.

“And so that backdrop to the kind of El Niño we had, which has been large, intense and early, tells you this is the kind of a wildcard, almost a joker in the deck that you see coming up to this particular December that we had, and forward.”

Mercury to drop in January

Weather experts say temperatures will drop in Manitoba this month. But for how long?

“Come the weekend we see temperatures getting below minus-20,” said Phillips. “Morning, noon and night. It’ll feel more “normal” I think in Winnipeg, but clearly this has been a very slow start to typically one of the longest seasons (of) winter in Canada.”

“If we just look at the short term, definitely January is going to turn colder as we get toward the middle of the month,” added Kehler.

Scott Kehler enjoys the mild winter weather with Weatherlogics’ “Chief Woofing Officer” Texas. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

Phillips says Manitoba has recorded an average temperature of minus-six this winter, when normally it would be minus-13.2

“We’ve had one day where the temperature’s been below minus-20 in Winnipeg,” he said. “Normally by this time we would have had 17 or 18 of those.”

He feels the cooler weather will be “short lived.”

“We already know the days are getting longer and February, it’s the shortest month, and doesn’t spring come in March?” he said. “There’s a lot of hope there that this has been a soft and open winter. It’s not been the brutal winter that sometimes it is.”

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