A look back to the mild winter of 1903-1904

Weather is always a popular topic in Alberta. This is likely due to that fact that there are such frequent changes, sometimes on a daily or even hourly basis. Because winter weather can be particularly challenging, especially in a year like this one, discussing the cold and snow is a frequent subject of conversation.

While most stories involve heavy snowfalls or brutally cold temperatures, the winter weather in Central Alberta is not always horrible. There have been some exceptionally mild winters, particularly the one in 1903-1904.

After generally cold and dry conditions in the 1890s, the weather turned much warmer and wetter around the turn of the century. In 1900, there was insufficient snow on the ground to allow sleighing until Jan. 24. The snow that fell did not last long. By the middle of March, it was reported that there was no snow on the ground from Red Deer to the American border.

Tom Wells of the Horn Hill district was able to start disking his fields on March 22. Seeding commenced on April 12 and many local farmers were finished by the beginning of May. The ice on the Red Deer River went out very early on April 3. Unfortunately, it took the Gaetz Avenue traffic bridge with it, as the bridge had been allowed to fall into poor repair.

The weather kept getting better with each succeeding year.

In September 1903, there was a little bit of snow in mid-September. However, it was warm enough that the snow was soon gone. Hard frosts did not set in until late October. Even then, daytime temperatures were generally above freezing. All the precipitation in November came as rain.

Conditions remained very mild throughout December. Rain fell on Christmas Eve. At the end of December and into early January, there were some scattered reports of green grass being seen.

Cold weather did not set in until the second week of January. However, again, the temperatures were mild compared to most Central Alberta winters. There were a few days when the thermometer dipped to -20C. There were other days when the temperature rose to 8C or 9C. There is an old photo of some of the Bower family, out in their shirtsleeves in January, in their hayfield on the south side of Red Deer.

There was a bit of snow around the middle of January. It was light enough that people commented that it was difficult to get around in a sleigh. Nevertheless, Red Deer Town council passed the first by-law requiring residents and business owners to keep the sidewalks in front of their property cleared of snow.

As often happens, there was a noticeable fall of snow in the third week of March during a spring snowstorm. While this provided some welcome moisture for the local farmers, again the snow did not last long. Soon, the weather was so warm that the ice went out on the Red Deer River on April 6. Fortunately, this time, the Gaetz Avenue traffic bridge stayed put.

With warm winters such as the one in 1903-1904, people began to think that Central Alberta had a generally mild climate. Since so many people in Red Deer and area were newcomers, they did not have much experience to indicate otherwise.

However, Alberta weather always soon eliminates any misconceptions. The winter of 1906-1907 started in the early fall. Temperatures in mid-winter plunged to -50C and remained there for several days. The cold and snowy weather did not end until early May. People quickly learned how brutal an Alberta winter could be.