Monday, 18 June 2012

Weird Southern Alberta Weather

Sitting here listening to the rain pound against the windows of my office upstairs in the old 1910 Galt Hospital, has made me think of some fun weather stories of southern Alberta past. Here's a few to make you remember that it could always be worse.

Narrow gauge engine stuck in snow drifts near Winnifred, 1887.
Galt Museum Archives 19760234134
1903 — May — Spring snowstorm hits and is remembered for the depth of snow, some three feet on the level. It came at a most inopportune time — in May after the cattle were spread out on the ranges. Losses were very heavy. Two young boys died when caught out in the snowstorm.

Oldman River in flood, 1902.
Galt Museum & Archives 19961000002

1930’s — Between 1933 and 1937, the Prairies experienced only 60% of its normal rainfall. Thousands of livestock starved, crops withered and 250,000 people across the region abandoned their land to seek better lives elsewhere.
Dust storm at Pearce, Alberta, November 1942
Galt Museum & Archives 19961000002
1961 — West Records Single Driest Year. Many areas in the drought-stricken Prairies received only 45% of normal precipitation. The duration, severity and size of the area effected made this drought the worst on record. Losses in wheat production alone were $668 million, 30% more than in the previous worst year, 1936.

1964 — December 15 — “Great Blizzard” lashes southern Prairies. Heavy snows, accompanied by 90km/h winds and –34˚C temperatures paralyzed the southern Prairies. Three people froze to death and thousands of animals perished.

1966 — January 6 — Pincher Creek -- A Chinook wind sent the temperature soaring 21˚C (37.8˚F) in four minutes.

1967 — April 17-20 and 27-29 Blizzards A series of intense winter storms dropped a record 175 cm (5 feet 9 inches) of snow on southern Alberta. Thousands of cattle, unable to forage for food in the deep snow, perished on the open range. It is estimated that 30,000 calves perished. Army units were dispatched to assist in snow clearing, while food, fuel and feed were airlifted into the province. The good news? The Revenue Minister announced that the income tax deadline for residents of southern Alberta was extended two weeks to May 15.

1973 — July 10 — Lethbridge — Temperature soars to 39.4˚C (102.9˚F)
Sept 1987-August 1988 — Drought across the southern Prairies. The hottest summer on record, combined with half the normal growing season rainfall and a virtually snow-free previous winter, produced a drought that rivaled the 1930s in terms of intensity and duration of the dry spell. About 10% of farmers and farm workers left agriculture in 1988. Effects of the drought were felt across the country as lower agricultural yields led to higher food and beverage prices for consumers.

1995 — June — Heavy, warm rains in early June, combined with snow melting, resulted in the highest flood in the Oldman River on record since 1911. Major floods also occurred in 1953 and 1964.

2008 — July 1 — A Canada Day thunderstorm dumped more rain in a 90 minute period than Lethbridge generally gets in a month. Caused extensive flooding.


  1. Just found your blog as I was looking for info about the 1967 blizzards. I am reading my grandmother's diaries and found quite a description of them. She lived in Welling.

  2. Nice to have diaries to read. We were off school and I have many memories of that one huge spring blizzard. We toboganned off the roof of our house as our car was drifted in the driveway. Was fun as a kid but not so fun for a lot of people. My Dad helped out a lot as he had a four wheel drive that could get through places tow trucks couldn't. The roads were used by mosty snow mobiles and that was one way supplies were moved around as well. Was quite an adventure.

  3. Hubby said the blizzard of 1967 was in May...I said April..glad you posted this info! He stands corrected. I remember my fathers' tractor stack just peaking up out of the snow & I climbed up to the top of the clothesline,touching the top of the poles...that is, after we shovelled with pots & pans to get our back door opened!

  4. It would be helpful if the photographs used in the blog posts included location, date and archival reference information. I'd love to show them to my Canadian History class, but there's not enough context. Thanks!

    1. Hello Anonymous, that is an excellent suggestion! Will make sure all contributors do this, and will get the details for these images up too. Thanks!

  5. I lived through the blizzard of 1967. At that time I was eight years old, and lived a couple blocks from the exhibition grounds.
    I recall my dad crawling on his hands and knees down sixth Avenue to our shop located on third Avenue and bringing home a loader to shovel us and the neighborhood Crescents snow.
    My friend and myself became very industrious once the blizzard had stopped. Our first challenge was jumping off the roof of our house into a 15 foot drift and then digging our way out.
    Our next endeavor was forming a maze of tunnels in my friends backyard which existed with about 150 feet of tunnel.
    Once the snow crusted our endeavors turn to a multitude of igloos and snowmen that looked like totem poles ranging about 20 feet high.
    Then the big thaw came and in a short period of time all was gone.
    Aaaaaaah the good ole days, when a blizzard was a real blizzard, and a snow days was a real snow day, or in this case a week....


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