Percy Saltzman Essay: Weather 1951 Part Two

Sunday, January 6, 1952

(CBC Trans-Canada Network)
"WEATHER ... 1951" (Part Two)
P. P. Saltzman,
Dominion Public Weather Service, Toronto.

Canada's weather during the first six months of 1951 was highlighted by a prolonged warm spell in the east and, in contrast, cold in the west. On the prairies this meant a late spring and delay in sowing the crops. This delay was to be even more serious because of the early fall to come. As June came and went it was clear that a severe drought was shaping up on the West Coast.

During July the drought came in earnest in lower BC. Vancouver got one-hundredth of an inch of rain for the whole month making it the driest July ever. The drought was accentuated by two very hot periods in mid-July and in some places thermometers climbed past 100. Central Alberta and Peace River had an unusually large number of thunderstorms with plenty of hail chopping down the crops. On the other hand, southern Alberta had it hot and dry. In the east the Ottawa valley was also much drier than usual. In the Maritimes, July temperatures were surprisingly uniform. Day after day the mercury rose to near eighty, occasionally pressing upward a bit higher to nudge the 90 mark.

Than came August. And in BC the first sizeable rain fell since late in May. For 87 days old Sol had scorched the grass and seared the gardens. Then on August 27 Vancouver and Victoria each reported three-quarters of an inch of rain, but even this was not enough to break the drought which was to last into September. Across the Rockies, on the other hand, the story was different. In Alberta heavy rains fell. Calgary for example, reported six inches, her heaviest August rainfall in 50 years. It was a very cool month on the whole for Manitoba and rainfall too was heavy. Winnipeg had its coldest August in 50 years. In fact, the only spot in Manitoba warmer than usual for August was Churchill on Hudson Bay's western shore.

For the Maritimes the summer months were noteworthy for the generous amounts of rain. This was in sharp contrast to recent summers which had threatened water shortages in some communities each year. Also the summer on the east coast passed without a single prolonged heat wave. Temperatures in the 90s were noticeable by their complete absence.

Abnormally dry weather continued in Be during the first three weeks of September. As a result the forest fire hazard ran high and many forest areas were closed off. Some rain fell in the second week but there wasn't enough to break the drought or lessen the forest fire danger. However, relief finally came in the last week of September, as a series of Pacific storms spread generous quantities of rain over BC. Thus ended record long west coast drought. On the Prairies a couple of warm and dry spells in the first three weeks of the month blessed prairie crops at just the right time and helped to ripen the unusually late crop. This came just in the nick of time, for on September 23 and for five nights following, killing frosts blitzed the prairies. Up to five inches of snow fell in Alberta but it wasn't long before a warm wind wiped the snow right off the ground as September ended.

The first two weeks of October were deceptively warm and dry on the prairies, but on October 15 the weather hit below the belt. Cold air poured over the crops, numerous snowfalls occurred, and then heavy rain topped it off. Result: harvesting was. brought to a standstill throughout the prairie provinces by the end of October. It was the second year in a row that the crops were left standing in the fields, something that hasn't happened for a good many years.

The month of November was marked by a series of storms which moved rapidly across BC and brought violent winds to the coast. Victoria, for example suffered a series of 90-mile-an-hour gales. In Alberta the first ten days were mild, but .thereafter wintry weather blew in and temperatures went below normal for the rest of the month broken only by a welcome chinook in southwestern Alberta which lifted temperatures temporarily to the fifties. In Manitoba on the other hand, November began bitterly cold. The first four days at Winnipeg were the coldest ever for so early in the winter. Freeze up of lakes and rivers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba was two to three weeks ahead of schedule. The big storm of the month blew up from the Dakotas about mid-November and dumped a foot of snow in northwestern Ontario, together with much freezing rain which made highway travel in southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario extremely dangerous. Once wasn't enough however, for again during the last week of November southern Manitoba was covered with ice. Snowfall was also heavy in Montreal which endured sixteen and a half inches in all or almost double what they usually get in November.

As for December ... of recent memory ....December long will be remembered as the month of the surprise punch, for it began innocently enough with some record all time high temperatures through most of Canada , But at midmonth just as the crocuses were about to bloom, the weather landed a haymaking one-two-three below the belt. First, what seemed a foot of snow fell all around and then a bone chilling cold snap and then another big fat blanket of snow topped it off. And then more cold and for the third time a big snow. Nearly everywhere there were white Christmases. Even Vancouver had one--only the seventh in the last 50 years.

Thus passed 1951 carrying its weather . fair and fou1 . into the limbo of for gotten things . but no . not entirely forgotten . certainly not by the farmers and others who suffered--and enjoyed--the wide variety of our weather: and definitely not forgotten by Canada's Meteorological service, where 1951's weather is forever enshrined in the climatological records of the nation.