Manitoba could see 'very difficult growing season' as drought leaves soil dry heading into winter: minister

Manitoba's hot summer and widespread drought through portions of the province mean the ground is more parched than usual heading into winter — and more trouble may be on the horizon unless the province gets at least 100 centimetres of snow before spring.

Low snowfall, above-average temperatures, sunshine could spell trouble for 2022 season, says Ron Schuler

Dry hay fields near Ashern, Man., are shown in an August photo. Manitoba's hydrological report suggests moisture levels in the province are near or below normal levels heading into winter. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba's hot summer and widespread drought through portions of the province mean the ground is more parched than usual heading into winter — and the province says more trouble may be on the horizon unless Manitoba gets at least 100 centimetres of snow before spring.

Manitoba soil moisture levels ranged from near normal to below normal in most river basins ahead of the fall freeze-up, according to a provincial hydrological report released Thursday.

Record heat waves and drought across Western Canada in 2021 made for drier conditions and below-normal precipitation through the summer and fall months, though conditions improved somewhat in Manitoba in November.

"If we get low snowfall, lots of above-average warmer temperatures and lots of sunshine … Manitoba could see a very difficult growing season for 2022," Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler warned at a Thursday news conference.

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

The Red River at Emerson, Man., is flowing slightly above normal for this time of year at 1,800 cubic feet per second, compared to the normal 1,522 cfs for this time of year.

Those higher flow levels stem from a weather event that hit Fargo recently, said Schuler.

The Assiniboine River at Headingley is flowing around 400 cfs, or about 280 cfs below normal, he said. 

Most large Manitoba lakes have below-normal water levels for this time of year but are within operational ranges, Schuler said.

An exception is Lake Manitoba, which has near record-low levels for the end of the year. Lake Manitoba's current level is around 810.2 feet. Normal would be above 811.9 feet.

"Not since 1942 has Lake Manitoba been this low," Schuler said.

Lake Winnipeg is also below normal for this time of year at over 711 feet, or slightly over a foot lower than usual.

Meanwhile, Lake Minnewasta near Morden is nine feet lower than on an average year.

Lake St. Martin and Lake Winnipegosis are also both below normal levels, while Dauphin Lake and Lake Wahtopanah are at or slightly above normal.

Most lakes in Whiteshell Provincial Park at normal levels.

A map showing precipitation percentiles from September 2020 until July 2021 illustrates how severe the drought was in the Prairies, especially in Manitoba. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)

Federal predictions point to La Niña weather conditions globally in the coming year, which tend to usher in normal to below-normal precipitation.

That's what is forecast for Manitoba, Schuler said, though there is also a slight chance of above-normal rain and snow levels in the north.

What happens in spring will depend on how much snow Manitoba gets in the winter and rain in the spring.

Most years, Manitoba receives between 75 and 130 centimetres between the beginning of November and end of March, or an average of 100 centimetres.

"The ideal winter now would be very cold — normal for Manitoba — [with] lots of snow, minimal sunshine and a normal melt," said Schuler.

"Not that that's my wish, but that would be best for what we might be facing in spring."


  • We initially reported that Lake Manitoba levels were around 802 feet. In fact, they are closer to 810.2 feet.
    Dec 17, 2021 2:13 PM CT


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