When Environment Canada commented on the top weather stories of 2012, it mentioned that the March heat wave was called the most extraordinary temperature anomaly in North American history — it was intense, huge and long-lasting.
“The heat eclipsed every temperature record and upstaged the winter that wasn’t,” according to the federal government agency. In Winnipeg, the temperature soared to 20.9°C in March 19, which was the earliest-ever temperature above 20°C in a calendar year.
“Just as crazy,” according to Environment Canada, “an intense thunderstorm with heavy rain occurred at 7 p.m. The next day the temperature topped 23.7°C.”
One can only hope that March this year will be “just as crazy;” that is, the thermometer will climb and compensate for what has been a horrendous winter. After all, the city of Winnipeg’s snow clearing budget took an enormous hit in January with $5 million more spent than the $6.3 million set aside for the month. The $11.3 million price tag was a blow to the $26.2 million contained in the snow clearing budget for the entire winter.
Environment Canada reported 40 centimetres of snow fell in January, which was nearly double the average snowfall of 23.1 centimetres for the month. That was on top of the 32 centimetres that fell in December and the 37 centimetres in November.
On the other hand, only 60 centimetres of snow fell in the winter of 2011-12, which was half of what is normally expected.
Fortunately, so far in February, only 8.6 centimetres of snow has fallen, while the average is 14.2 centimetres.
On March 1, Environment Canada is forecasting a daytime high of -6°C and sunny skyings.
According to the age-old adage, if March comes in like a lamb, it will go out like a lion, and vice versa.
After years of weather observation, old-timers might swear by the validity of this adage, but even they will agree there will always be exceptions to the rule. In fact, anything weather-related is hard to pin down as following a specific pattern other than the coming and going of the four seasons on the prairies. And Environment Canada meteorologists claim the adage is completely unreliable due to the vagaries of March weather.
March is more or less a transitional month — not quite signalling the end of winter and not quite the arrival of spring. It can be a relatively warm month as it was in 2012 or it can be plagued by a spate of cold weather or a rampaging blizzard.
The year 1904 defied the age-old adage, as March came in and went out like a lion, with a blizzard near the beginning of the month and another toward the end of the month roaring across the prairies. When the page for March was torn from the calendar, a total of 76.2 centimetres of snow had fallen, which remains the snow accumulation record for the month in southern Manitoba.
The first of the two March storms began on the ninth with a light snowfall. What shaped it into a blizzard were the high winds, which seemed to be coming from all points of the compass, according to newspaper accounts.
The Manitoba Free Press on March 10 reported the variable winds indicated “an unusual disturbance of the elements ...”
A telegram received in Winnipeg from Neepawa called the storm the worst the town had experienced throughout the winter.
The swirling wind caused the snow to form massive drifts that impeded railway traffic. Snow drifts along the Glenboro line delayed the passage of the eastbound train, forcing it to be sidetracked at Holland. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Atlantic Express was cancelled due to the blizzard.
In Brandon, the raging storm caused tracks to be covered by mounds of snow. Train No. 2, a transcontinental, was reported to be 20 hours late. A train to Brandon was stranded in Morris, with passengers forced to overcrowd the Kastnor House (Hotel).
The town of Arcola, Saskatchewan, was reported to have been completely buried in snow.
In Douglas, some 16 kilometres east of Brandon on the CPR line, all business was shut down, “while many large drifts impede all traffic in all roadways.” William Thomas, the local undertaker, “spent several hours travelling a quarter of a mile to lay out a corpse, although he was equipped with a large lantern and was familiar with every landmark along the route.”
Despite the severity of the blizzard, no one was reported to have suffered any
serious consequences, and even Thomson eventually found his way home.
The Brandon Daily Sun proclaimed on March 11: “The assumption that March is a spring month may be expected to call forth the usual satirical comment.”
As well, the comment was made in the newspaper, “Better a cold blustering March now than towards the end of the month.” Obviously, the commentator was a firm believer in the adage which claimed what happened at the start of March would influence the weather at the end of it.
Unfortunately for the Sun scribe, Old Man Winter was not about to relent and release his chilly grip on the landscape. Two weeks after the first blizzard, a second struck, and the fury it unleased over an extensive area from Medicine Hat to Lake of the Woods, and throughout Montana, the Dakotas and Minnesota, was significantly greater than that experienced on March 9. Unlike the earlier snow storm, the blizzard that struck on Thursday, March 24, and Friday, March 25, was life-threatening in its intensity. Indeed, a number of Manitobans died from exposure during the March natural disaster, while several had to be hospitalized with severe cases of frostbite.
The rail infrastructure of the province, the major means of transportation between communities and the outside world, was brought to a standstill as trains were either delayed or outright stranded, sometimes for days on end with passengers and crews despairing about the prospects of soon being rescued from their snowy entrapment.
The storm seemed to have appeared virtually out of nowhere, as March 24 dawned bright and clear with fair weather. But the weather took a sudden change for the worse by six o’clock in the evening.
“Accompanied by a high wind the white ghost of the north descended on the city last,” reported the Free Press on March 25, “and in places raised soft mountain ranges, blocking traffic and wringing from the casual wayfarer imprecations because of his difficulty in making progress.”
One can only hope that March this year is a repeat of March 2012 and not of March 1904.