Potential Prairie blizzard: what we know and don't know


Model trend of the ECMWF model depiction of 500mb geopotential height and pressure centers

You may have heard that a potential blizzard may impact the Prairie Provinces over the weekend. We delayed to talk about this as the term "blizzard" seem to be used a bit to easily for our taste. Blizzard criteria may be reached in parts of Saskatchewan, but there are still much model discrepancy at this time to say at this time. Above is the ECMWF, arguably one of the best forecast model for determining pressure centres. As you can see above, even the ECMWF is showing great variability in model trends depicting the Clipper moving faster into North Dakota and slower into Saskatchewan. To get a better idea of what we are looking at, let's zoom in on the Prairies and use a different model, the NAM.


NAM 12km model temperature forecast loop from Thursday evening to Sunday evening

Determining the track of this Low pressure will be highly dependent on this sharp temperature line. The green temperatures on the left side of the graph in Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan depict warm temperatures and the white/purple line depicts extremely cold temperatures. Below is a screenshot of this sharp temperature contrast. This sharp temperature gradient will give for an intensifying Low as it tracks southeast. The Low will essentially "ride" this gradient like a boat flowing down a river. Therefore, this gradient is essential for forecasting the Low track.

Sharp temeprature (in C) contrast between above zero temperatures and -30C temperature in Manitoba

The northwest corner of the Low pressure system will experience the most intense snowfall and possibly blizzard-like conditions. However, frontogenesis will result in precipitation as well. The southwestern corner of Manitoba will likely see accumulating snow on Sunday, but how much is also hard to say at this time. Stay tune for later updates.

NAM 12km for Sunday evening (only one model run) depicting Low position and possible blizzard conditions in red box

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Above is The Weather Network's thoughts on the upcoming storm