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Spring hasn't sprung yet. Wintery conditions hit Calgary and surrounding areas

A snowfall warning has been issued for Calgary by Environment and Climate Change Canada. (James Young/CBC - image credit)
A snowfall warning has been issued for Calgary by Environment and Climate Change Canada. (James Young/CBC - image credit)

The calendar may have marked the first day of spring as March 19, but the weather in southern Alberta says otherwise.

Snow hit the region late Tuesday.

snowfall warning has been issued to Calgary and surrounding areas that is expected to last through the week — southern Alberta can expect 10 to 30 centimetres of snow by Friday morning.

Alysa Pederson, Environment and Climate Change Canada's warning preparedness meteorologist, says it's "quite the change" from Sunday's balmy temperatures.

As of Wednesday morning, Calgary has already seen eight centimetres of snow at the airport. The snowfall is expected to ease in the afternoon before intensifying again through the remainder of the week.

Pederson says Calgary can expect 15 to 25 cm of snow throughout this longer snowfall duration. Temperatures are expected to stay cold, reaching lows of –10 C overnight, but are expected to rebound to normal seasonal ranges next week.

"Pretty good snow dump over 2½ days for parts of southern Alberta," she said.

The southern Alberta-focused meteorologist also says the south end of Calgary and Red Deer can expect to be hit the hardest.

"Typically March and April, especially in Calgary, are the snowiest months of the year. With this event, we could be right on par with what our normal snowfall might be for Calgary."

'Far, far less' snow than needed

But in the face of drought, this dump of snow won't solve Alberta's moisture problem.

"Say we get 25 centimetres of snow. When we actually melt that 25 centimetres, we're really only getting maybe 15 to 20 millimetres of actual liquid," said Pederson.

"This snowfall event, while it's really nice to have and it does help … one snowfall event likely isn't going to make too much of a difference because the actual water content in that snow isn't very high."

The City of Calgary says crews are clearing and salting the roads to prevent the formation of ice under the sleet-like snowfall.
The City of Calgary says crews are clearing and salting the roads to prevent the formation of ice under the sleet-like snowfall.

The City of Calgary says crews are clearing and salting the roads to prevent the formation of ice under the sleet-like snowfall. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

And as drought looms over the province, this March snowfall still has an important role to play in potentially replenishing the snowpack in the mountains.

John Pomeroy is the Canada research chair in Water Resources and Climate Change with the University of Saskatchewan. He's based in Canmore, Alta., and says any moisture helps, especially up in the mountains.

Pomeroy says the snowpack is really low for this time of year — more than 150 millimetres below normal, to be exact, when measuring the water equivalent that would come from the snow.

"People remember what happened last year with the drought. The important thing to remember is that it's lower than last year, in many places," he told the CBC's Judy Aldous on the Calgary Eyeopener. "That's a great concern."

LISTEN | Canmore-based researcher talks drought on the Calgary Eyeopener:

"You can see an early snowmelt again and that's what got us into trouble last year. It basically gave us an extra month of summer and we didn't have enough water to get through it and we ended up in a very severe drought. A second year of that group would be disastrous in some cases."

Pomeroy says the snowfall is still not enough to replenish moisture that was lost by unseasonably warm winter temperatures, and that it would take an "exceptional amount" of snow to help regain lost soil moisture.

"It's far, far less than we need."

'Back to winter' driving conditions

From Rocky Mountain House, through Calgary and Lethbridge, and down to Medicine Hat, the snow dump is affecting a range of regions.

LISTEN | This is Calgary podcast explores chinooks and weird weather:

As for Calgary's road conditions, Chris McGeachy of the City of Calgary mobility department says they've been following the forecast and preparing for this spring cold front.

"Through the night, crews have been responding to snow. It kind of started as sleet," he said, adding that the roads are being salted to prevent ice formation.

McGeachy says the city has already sent out additional snow clearing crews and will be focusing on pedestrian routes throughout the day on Wednesday.

"Just be mindful that we're back to winter conditions," adding that drivers are encouraged to take their time and leave space for other vehicles.

Calgary is expected to get 15 to 25 centimetres of snow by Friday.
Calgary is expected to get 15 to 25 centimetres of snow by Friday.

Calgary is expected to get 15 to 25 centimetres of snow by Friday. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

According to the Calgary police, 104 non-injury collisions and 14 injury collisions occurred between midnight and 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Calgary Transit has enacted snow detours for bus routes.