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Spring snow a boon for Prairie farms

Unlike many of their urban cousins, producers welcomed the snows that fell across parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan earlier this week, providing much needed moisture to soils left parched by a dry winter.

April 22, 2008  By Canadian Press via the Globe and Mail

April 22, 2008

EDMONTON — Western Canada's spring bout of winter weather may have people seeing red as they shovel the white stuff, but it has proven a godsend for parched prairie soil.

A slow-moving upper low pressure system from the Pacific, fed by lingering Arctic air, continued yesterday to park itself over the Prairies, delivering snow and freezing rain from Alberta to Manitoba.


The snow dump – which reached 40 centimetres in some regions of Alberta over the weekend – snarled roads and led to multiple car crashes, including a collision near Olds, Alta., involving a semi-truck and a car that left one person dead.

The blustery conditions were all the more irritating because Central Canada was basking in balmy temperatures – with forecasts suggesting the sunshine would continue through the week.

But Agriculture Canada said the snowfall on the Prairies is just what farmers and ranchers need.

Trevor Hadwen, the department's agri-climate specialist, said some areas received 30 millilitres of moisture.

"Those areas were extremely dry throughout the winter. Quite a few of those areas received more moisture in this one storm than they did all winter," Mr. Hadwen said from Regina.

The next important question is how the snow will melt.

"If it melts slowly, that moisture will seep into the soil and do some good recharge."

But a fast runoff won't be bad either for southern Saskatchewan and Alberta ranchers, who need the moisture for reservoirs and dugouts.

"Their dugouts were fairly dry and there wasn't a whole lot of runoff this spring, if any, from the winter," Mr. Hadwen said.

The weekend snowfall brought an abrupt halt to a spring that featured summer-like temperatures just one weekend before.

Edmonton scrambled to get graders on the road. Some contractors had already switched their scraping equipment from snow to gravel.

Snow, blowing snow and snow drifts caused chaos on highways, leading to scores of pileups.

Late Sunday, a Greyhound bus carrying 16 hit a ditch south of Edmonton after it slammed into the back of a pickup that had slowed down to manoeuvre around a jackknifed transport truck. No one was hurt.

Dan Kulak of Environment Canada said snowfall amounts were around 20 centimetres in the major cities – a big dump but far from the 48 centimetres recorded one May day in Calgary 27 years ago.

"Don't take the snow tires off yet. I'm not saying we're going to get a dump in May, but May is notorious for having big storms when they do happen."

Temperatures were not expected to get back above the freezing mark until the end of the week, and then they were expected to be 10 degrees lower than the seasonal average.

Much of Saskatchewan was spared the full wrath of the weekend storm, but there were areas in the western part that felt the effects.

Travel was not recommended yesterday on many of the highways in the Lloydminster, North Battleford and Kindersley areas.

In Meadow Lake, about 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, Daryl Wood was hoping to have at least part of the golf course open this week. But the 30 centimetres of snow that fell over the weekend put a chill on those plans.

Mr. Wood said he spent four hours clearing the parking lot yesterday just so people could get into the restaurant.

"We're behind the eight ball now," he said. "I am sure we're back at least a week to 10 days."


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