Percy Saltzman Essay: Weather 1951 (First Half)

Sunday, December 30, 1951

(CBC Trans-Canada Network)
"WEATHER...1951 (First Half)
P.P. Saltzman,
Dominon Public Weather Service,

The end of a year is a time for review; it's done for political events; for books and for movies; there's a man of the year; why not the weather of the year...!

In the history of Canada's weather, certain years stand out fro some truly dramatic event. Such was 1897, the year without a summer; 1936 is still remembered for its sizzling heat wave. And last year, 1950, was so chockful of weather headlines that it can be tagged with at least three labels: the year of the blue sun (remember, when Alberta smoke blanketed the continent); to many it will forever be the year of the Winnipeg flood; and to others, it will be remembered as the year of the Grey Cup snow storm...

As for 1951, if anything, it will be called the year of the big BC drought.

But let's begin at the beginning ...

1951 began with a cold spell in the west and warm weather in the east, where Halifax, for example, went into its third consecutive month of all time high temperatures. This warm weather was general throughout the Maritimes, Ontario and Quebec, and was destined to last into April. Meanwhile, in chilling contrast, the West shivered in temperatures far below normal. It was a bad January in BC--38 inches of snow in one day at Revelstoke; 90 mile an hour winds at Victoria; and on one dread day at a lonely lighthouse on the Queen Charlottes, the wind reached 125 miles per hour.

February repeated January's pattern--cold in the west, warm in the east. New high temperature records were set at several places in the Maritimes and new lows chilled the West. Just for comparison though, last winter wasn't as cold as the one before (1950's), which will long be remembered as having had the coldest 6 weeks in many a year.

March came and went much the same as January and February. Again temperatures were much above normal in the East and well below in the West. On the Prairies the first three weeks of March were extremely cold. At Calgary and Regina it was the coldest March in 50 years. Two sever blizzards swept across the prairies during the month; for many days people shovelled in the coal and waited day after day for a break in the cold snap. In contrast, the East followed the typical March pattern--mild and sunny weather alternating with blustery days. The Maritimes completed the sixth in their string of warmer-than-normal months.

This mild weather in the East continued through April as well, but in the west things were topsy-turvey. On the Prairies April started out nice and mild but before long Arctic air poured down from the North and for nearly two weeks it was brrring cold. Blizzards and deep snow accompanied this Polar outbreak. Meanwhile in BC it was just the opposite: people were grumbling about how dray it was. In Victoria, April rainfall was only one-tenth of an inch. That's the driest April Victoria ever had...and the real BC brought hadn't even started yet.

In the Prairie Provinces the month of May was making amends for the prolonged cold of the month before. Temperatures pretty well all through the West were normal or above normal, so much so that a high point was reached near the end of the May when the mercury hit the 90s in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As if this heat weren't enough, there followed three days of windy weather. Farmers watched their dry dusty soil drifting away and wondered what sort of summer they were in for. Farther east, in Ontario and Quebec, it was warm and dry and temperatures climbed to near ninety as early as May 15. Yes, the merry month of May brought the first really warm weather to most of Canada. In just retribution the Maritimes, which had had it warm all winter, were not experiencing their come-uppance. There, the warm spell which had lasted fully six months was being broken by frequent frosts during the first week of May. As the month wore on, the temperature slowly rose and on one hot day Chatham, NB, reported ninety above.

As June came and went it was clear that a sever drought was shaping up on the West Coast. Victoria set two new records--its driest June since 1938 and a new high total for hours of bright sunshine. In contrast, on the other side of the Rockies, snowfalls twice as heavy as normal were being recorded, and 16 inches of snow plopped on Calgary city as last as June 6 and 7. In general it was a late spring for prairies farmers and seeding of crops was delayed. This turned out to be double unfortunate in the light of the early fall to-come. June was a mean month to Ontario and Quebec too, for it was both colder and wetter than normal. As for the East Coasters, they had their usual June--west and dry, cool and hot, by turns.

Thus ended the first half of 1951 ... weatherwise. All in all from January to June it was more of the same that Canada has had in the past few years--cold weather in the West, warm weather in the East, with the trend occasionally reversing itself to catch the suffering citizenry off base. Still to come in the latter half of the year were the big BC drought, the early fall to come on the Prairies with the crops caught standing in the fields, and the deceptive December in the East that uncorked a nasty Sunday punch. But this makes another story well worth holding over to next week's talk.