AT least a metre of snow needs to fall in Manitoba this winter to avoid a catastrophic drought situation with soil moisture levels already at or below normal across much of the province.

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This article was published 17/12/2021 (193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

AT least a metre of snow needs to fall in Manitoba this winter to avoid a catastrophic drought situation with soil moisture levels already at or below normal across much of the province.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler laid out the province’s fall condition report Thursday and warned that without normal to above-normal precipitation through the winter Manitobans could be having dire conversations about water conservation in the spring.

"If we get low snowfall, lots of above-average warmer temperatures and lots of sunshine, which could cause snow sublimation, Manitoba could see a very difficult growing season for 2022," said Schuler, who also heads the province’s Emergency Measures Organization.

"With above-average dry soil, low river flows and lakes and retention ponds below average, agriculture and Manitoba Hydro could be substantially negatively affected."

Manitoba experienced one of its driest summers on record in 2021 with the provincial government declaring extreme drought conditions for most regions.

A significant increase in precipitation through the fall improved drought conditions in some areas, but the provincial government said above-normal rainfall would be required prior to the winter freeze and throughout the season to alleviate the situation.

The current long-range forecasts call for La Niña conditions with normal to below-normal precipitation for most Manitoba basins, Schuler said. On average, the province receives between 75 and 130 centimetres of snow each winter.

He said ideal winter conditions to avoid a drought would include very cold temperatures, plenty of snow, minimal sunshine and a normal melt.

As of Thursday, the province’s largest lakes were also below-normal levels for this time of year, with Lake Manitoba below its normal operating range at a near-historic level of 810.2 feet, he said.

The body of water hasn’t dropped to that level since 1942. Lake Winnipeg was below normal at 711.9 feet.

Schuler said the low water level on Lake Manitoba can be attributed, in part, to forest fires in the province last summer that caused more evaporation, adding that sustaining lake levels would be very tough should there be a repeat of the summer’s tinderbox conditions.

Water-control structures are also being operated to manage the low level water conditions and water-retention projects are currently in the works, the minister said.

"We’re facing the potential of a very catastrophic event of nature," he said. "If we don’t get at least 100 centimetres of snow, we may be in front of you in spring having a fairly dire report."

The province’s Hydrologic Forecast Centre will issue its first flood outlook in February.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.