Possible Drought This Spring

Otonabee Region watershed is inching close to a possible drought this spring

Peterborough, Ontario (April 26, 2021) It is spring, and unlike most years, the 2021 freshet, that occurs when warmer temperatures trigger snow and ice cover melt creating significant meltwater run-off into area waterbodies, has already passed us by.

“This spring’s freshet, which was about one month earlier than normal, prompted a Flood Watch on March 19th, that was cancelled on April 7th. In my 20 years with Otonabee Conservation, not issuing a Flood Warning during the annual spring freshet is unprecedented,” states Gordon Earle, Water Resources Technologist, “And, we are now approaching the possibility of a low water situation this spring.”

With rain in the forecast all week, it is hard for most of us to imagine that we have the potential to experience a drought this spring, but a closer look at the water level and precipitation data provides us with a different story.

Otonabee Conservation collects and analyzes precipitation and stream flow data from across the watershed on a regular basis.

Data collected so far this year reveals that the first two months of 2021 saw below normal snowfall events. In February, streamflow levels in Peterborough’s Jackson Creek averaged 70% below the historical average, and March’s precipitations receipts across the watershed were 20% below the 30-year normal.

“This year, we also experienced average daily air temperatures in March, which were 2.4 degrees [Celsius] warmer than our 30-year normal,” explains Earle, “That led to an earlier than normal snow melt and ground thaw and that’s why the spring freshet came and went in March.”

If we look a bit further back, we can see some more evidence of an approaching drought.

In 2020, low to moderate short-term drought plagued the Region from the beginning of May through to the end of September. Overall, 2020 was warmer than normal with the average annual air temperature 1.24 degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term annual average, which dates back 153 years to the year of Confederation (1867). In fact, last year, we experienced 23 days when the daytime high air temperature reached 30 degrees or higher, and the long-term median is only 11 days!

2020 also saw annual precipitation totals that were 15% drier than normal – all months except January and August were drier than normal.

With 2020 being warmer and drier than normal, paired with inadequate snowfall this past winter, and the freshet having already come and gone this year, we are entering a potential upcoming drought situation.

How will you know if we enter a low water/drought situation? You can always check the Low Water or Flood Status icons in the top header of our website. To be notified about changes to the Low Water Status in our Region, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Residents can also learn more about our Low Water Response Program online at otonabeeconservation.com. You can also view and monitor precipitation and water level data that is collected from monitoring stations throughout the watershed and posted online, daily. Be sure to read up about more tips about water conservation in and around your home.

For more information contact:

Dan Marinigh | CAO
Otonabee Conservation
dmarinigh@otonabeeconservation.com | 705-745-5791 ext.222