Water Security Agency Issues Conditions at Freeze-up Report

The Water Security Agency (WSA) released the 2023 Conditions at Freeze-up Report. Hot and dry conditions throughout the summer and fall have led to most areas of the province heading into the winter with below to well below normal soil moisture. While some areas of the province experienced higher than normal spring runoff events due to an unusually fast spring thaw, the last half of the summer and early fall were drier than normal.

Apart from Lake Diefenbaker, which has been impacted by dry conditions in the headwater areas in Alberta, most larger water supply reservoirs across southern and central Saskatchewan are at near normal elevations for this time of year. At this time, there are no areas where the WSA believes that there is a heightened risk of above normal spring runoff in 2024. There is, however, concern of surface water supply issues in the southwest if winter snowfall is below average. In some cases, an above normal snowpack would be required to stave off extremely dry conditions.

An early snowfall event occurred across much of southern and east central Saskatchewan. This snowfall was followed by below normal temperatures, leaving a lot of these areas snow covered. Two runoff scenarios could emerge next year because of this precipitation, increased soil moisture or higher runoff flows. Snow surveys in February 2024 will help determine if the moisture will infiltrate into the soil or run off toward reservoirs. 

The most recent precipitation, seen as both rain and snow, in early November is not captured in this report. This precipitation event has improved soil moisture conditions across most of the southeast, although conditions are still generally considered dry. The exception to this is the Regina area where considerable precipitation was received that would have improved fall soil moisture conditions to near normal. Across the southeast, the added moisture could potentially create a frost layer that may reduce infiltration in the spring.

The WSA issues the Conditions at Freeze-up Report during the late fall/early winter period. Freeze-up conditions, in combination with the winter snowpack, become the initial base for the spring snowmelt runoff forecast. This report gives an early indication of areas that are more vulnerable to potentially above or below normal runoff in the spring. It is not a spring runoff forecast, as winter snow accumulation is an integral component in the runoff yield during the melt and is impossible to predict at this juncture.

This assessment is compiled with data from various sources including Environment and Climate Change Canada and the US National Weather Service. Current long-range forecasts and climate indices suggest near normal precipitation and above normal temperatures through the winter months over much of the province. A long-term El Niño pattern has developed, which typically means a drier and warmer winter for Saskatchewan.

The initial Spring Runoff Outlook for 2024 will be issued in early February.

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