MNR expects cooler than normal spring temperatures until May; what about snow melt?

Muskoka flood, winter, groundhog

March going out like a lamb, but will we see a sudden warm up? Muskoka News Watch asks the Ministry of Natural Resources about the spring weather outlook

Picture at left shows a groundhog on Moon River doing a second groundhog day look-about on March 20, 2014

March 31, 3pm. Today March is going out like a lamb so it seems safe to say that spring has finally arrived. But is it really as warm as usual for spring, or have we become so accustomed to the deep chill of winter 2013-14 that it just seems to be warming up fast? In fact, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) back in February suggested we could be looking at cooler than average temperatures right through to May.

Today, Ministry officials are meeting with Muskoka municipal politicians, emergency management personnel and water stakeholders, such as members of the Muskoka River Water Management plan, at the Rotary Centre in Bracebridge. The aim of the meeting is to follow through on a promise to review last year’s flood and share information about what the spring thaw could bring this year. The meeting was closed to the public and media, but Muskoka News Watch (MNW) hopes to bring you an update from today’s meeting as soon as possible.

While still shivering in early March, MNW Editor Norah Fountain asked Steve Taylor, an Integrated Resource Management (IRM) Technical Specialist with the MNR, what we might be able to expect in the way of weather this spring. Here’s our brief pre-spring Q&A with Taylor.

Note: Temperature data is readily available from Environment Canada and the most accurate up to date local information on watershed conditions is available at the MNR district level. Weather outlooks and forecasts are ever changing – just ask Rick Mercer in his widely popular “Seven Day Forecast” (See references at the end of this article). But flooding is no joke. It pays to check your forecasts and watch for weather outlook bulletins shared with municipalities by the MNR.

Q: What’s the spring temperature outlook? Is it time to put away the winter jackets, or should we keep some woollies at hand just in case?

A: We expect a cooler than normal spring, averaging all temperatures over the period from March to May. Of course, normal temperatures for each monitored location vary.

Q: How would the snowmelt potentially differ this year from last?

A: At the end of February, MNR snow pack monitoring indicated there was approximately 110mm of water content contained in the snow pack across the Muskoka River watershed. This is a reduction of approximately 27mm in water content since mid-February. In comparison, the 2013 end of February snow pack water content was approximately the same as this year for the month.

The melt rate of a late-winter snow pack prior to the spring thaw is driven by a number of factors including air temperatures and rainfall amounts.  The amount of snow pack water content throughout the winter is dynamic and can change significantly from month to month due to accumulation and loss factors. For example, evaporation of snow occurs at varying rates throughout the winter.

Should people be concerned about the potential for flooding like we saw last year?
A: The potential or likelihood of a flood occurring this spring will not be known until prior to the spring freshet when watershed conditions, including snow pack water content, are assessed and timely weather forecasts are provided identifying predicted air temperatures and rainfall amounts.

People with homes or cottages in areas along lakes and rivers within known flood-prone locations should always be prepared for the possibility of flooding. Floods are natural events and could occur in any given spring with the melting of the snow pack due to prevailing weather conditions including rainfall.

The MNR Parry Sound District will issue local public notifications through the media and local municipalities such as a Flood Watch if the potential for flooding exists and a Flood Warning if flooding is imminent or occurring. These notifications are issued to provide the public and local municipalities enough lead-time to prepare or respond to a potential or actual flood situation. Note: After this interview on March 28, the MNR issued its first notification. Click here to view that PDF (the full Water Conditions Statement also follows References at the bottom of this post).

Q: Muskoka lakes and rivers seem to be very drawn down or lower than in recent years – why is this?
A: The typical drawdown of lake levels completed in late winter prior to the spring freshet or snow melt is identified by the Target Operating Level (TOL) within the respective annual operating plans as identified in the Muskoka River Water Management Plan (MRWMP). There are provisions within the MRWMP to lower lake levels below the TOL under certain conditions including when snow pack water content within the Muskoka River watershed or portions thereof are greater than 100% of the historical average. A significant amount of snow fell early this winter such as in the month of December.


Feature picture: Groundhog repeats Groundhog day on March 20 on Moon River. Photo by Mike Webb.

Full text of Ministry of Natural Resources – Water Conditions Statement – Flood Outlook as of March 28, 2014.

The Ministry of Natural Resources – Parry Sound District is advising area residents that a Watershed Conditions Statement – Flood Outlook is in effect in the District.

Residents in the Parry Sound – Muskoka area should keep a close watch on conditions, regularly check for updated messages and exercise caution around water bodies as flows within rivers and streams increase in the coming days.  Although flooding is not expected at this time, residents may wish to consider taking action to secure or protect any property in flood-prone or vulnerable areas.

The MNR is closely monitoring the weather and developing watershed condidtions.  Further updates will be issued as appropriate.


Description of Weather System

Beginning today and extending into next week, daytime high air temperatures are expected to range from 1 degree to 8 degrees with overnight lows dropping to below freezing.  A total of 15-20mm of rain is expected today across local watersheds.  Rainfall and forecasted temperatures for the next few days will cause some melting of the substantial snow pack in the area but flooding is not expected at this time.

Description of Current Conditions

The water content within the existing snow pack across the Parry Sound-Muskoka area is approximately 180mm, which is significantly above average for this time of year.  The long-range weather outlook or trend suggests that cooler than average temperatures will return late next week, following the current mild spell.

In the absence of any significant rainfall amounts through early April, it is expected that these cooler air temperatures will allow the snow pack to melt at a relatively slow rate therefore reducing the potential for significant flooding within local rivers and lakes.

Expiry Date: This message will expire March 31, 2014 5:00 pm

Understanding Terminology

**WATERSHED CONDITIONS STATEMENT – FLOOD OUTLOOK: gives early notice of the potential for flooding based on weather forecasts calling for heavy rain, snow melt, high winds or other conditions

WATERSHED CONDITIONS STATEMENT – WATER SAFETY: indicates that high flows, melting ice or other factors could be dangerous for users such as boaters, anglers and swimmers but flooding is not expected

FLOOD WATCH: potential for floosing exists within specific watercourses and municipalities

FLOOD WARNING: flooding is imminent or occurring within specific watercourses and municipalities

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