Pouring rain has helped turn spring from one of the driest to one of the wettest in Alberta history.
Environment Canada published its quarterly climate review this week. This year saw the hottest spring in Canada since records began in 1948, the agency found, with most regions sitting at about 4.1 C above normal. It was only the ninth warmest in the Prairies.
It was also darn wet. Prairie provinces got about 69 per cent more precipitation during spring than average — the wettest on record.
The St. Albert region got about 106 millimetres of rain in May alone, notes senior climatologist David Phillips, or about twice as much as usual. "It was absolutely a soaker."
It was the second-wettest April and May on record for the region, and it came on the heels of the driest January through March.
"All the talk up to the first of April was about, 'Where's the precipitation?'" Phillips says, and for good reason — the region had received about half of the amount of rain and snow it usually did over the previous year, making it the driest year on record.
"You went from record driest to almost wettest," he says — in part a reflection of our changing climate. "It's almost as if your prayers were answered. "
Wind makes for wet
Canada's climate has warmed by about 1.7 degrees over the last 63 years, says Environment Canada. Four of the warmest years on record happened during the past decade.
This recent wet spell is partially due to a shift in the jet stream, Phillips says. It's now south of us, so it isn't around to blow storm systems away. That's meant more rain. "This could be a golden year for agriculture."
While parts of Alberta are still dry, such as the Peace region, most of the province west of Highway 2 is now at about normal rain levels for this time of year, says Ralph Wright, soil moisture specialist with Alberta Agriculture. Areas east of Highway 2 are at about a one-in-12 year high for wetness.
It's a huge turnaround from earlier this year, he says, but some areas up north are still at risk of drought. "Even though we've had some pretty good precipitation since April 1st, we're still down year-to-date significantly."
St. Albert probably has enough moisture to get through a slightly dry summer, he continues, and to start rebuilding its soil moisture reserves.
Good news for some
The rain might have ruined the Rainmaker, says local farmer John Bocock, but it will definitely help the crops grow on time. "I'm delighted we're having a wetter spring."
But it's still not wet enough for some farmers; the soil's so dry that it's sucking up every drop, leaving little to run off into dugouts for cattle. "Our dugout's getting lower and lower," Bocock says.
It's also been a headache for gardeners, says Jim Hole of Hole's Greenhouse. The rain and snow have pushed back planting season about a month, making it too late for vegetables such as corn. Some bedding plants such as basil may also have died due to the cold. "It's been a difficult year."
The wet is a boon to bug-lovers like Peter Heule, who runs the bug room at the Royal Alberta Museum. Years of dry weather had caused some wetlands to almost vanish, wiping out prime bug and bird habitat. "You were starting to see migratory birds dabbling in puddles in the street."
The rain could make for a pretty nasty mosquito year, Heule says, but should also attract plenty of mosquito-eating dragonflies. Recent cold snaps may have put a dent in butterfly and fly populations.
Phillips predicted wetter and warmer weather than usual this month, followed by a warmer July. The rain will break eventually, he promises. "This is not going to be the year without a summer."