Remembering the spring of 1951

A few places experienced damage to their chimneys due to the high winds and snow

Central Alberta has been suffering under one of the colder springs in recent history.

Some parts of the province even reported record, or near record, low temperatures on the Easter long weekend.

However, while the slow and miserable start of spring this year is demoralizing, it is by no means unprecedented.

Moreover, some of the worst snowstorms on record have happened in springtime. One example of a challenging winter which ended with a late, cold and snowy spring occurred more than 65 years ago in 1950-1951.

The winter got off to a brisk start in November 1950.

There was a slight warm spell in December, but the weather soon turned very cold and snowy again. For three consecutive months, more than 30 cm of snow fell each and every month.

Towards the end of January, a bad blizzard hit. More than 15 cm of snow fell in two days. High winds created huge drifts. Conditions got so bad that the provincial Department of Highways was forced to suspend plowing until the winds subsided. As it was, two plows got stranded, one at Alix and another at Bentley.

After the storm finally ended, the Municipal District (County) of Red Deer announced that it had purchased a new ‘blower’ type of snowplow to try and keep the rural roads open.

Conditions remained treacherous, both in the rural areas and in the City.

In one bad accident, a truck rear-ended another at the top of the South Hill. One of vehicles burst into flames. The occupants were severely injured.

Conditions turned even worse in early March. Temperatures fell to their lowest levels of the winter.

On March 8th, the weather station in Red Deer recorded -40C.

There were reports of temperatures as low as -50C west of Sylvan Lake. Temperatures dropped to nearly -40C again on March 11th.

On Thursday, March 15th, another terrible blizzard hit. There was lots of snow and very high winds again. The Penhold Airport reported gusts as high as 122 km/h.

Visibility dropped to zero. News reports stated that Central Alberta was caught in a “paralytic vise”.

Drifts grew as high as 4m.

Moreover, the high winds packed the snow into the consistency of concrete. Plows worked non-stop to reopen the major traffic arteries. However, the storm was more than they could handle. One rural plow was only able to move 5 km in 24 hours.

After the storm abated, bulldozers were brought in to try and clear the roads.

However, many operators found it difficult to make a dent in the hard-packed drifts. Finally, a decision was made to leave several rural roads and City sidestreets uncleared until the onset of spring made them passable again.

Meanwhile, some of the rural correspondents wrote in the local newspapers that the huge drifts made some farm homes look like igloos.

A few places experienced damage to their chimneys due to the very high winds and snow.

Unfortunately, there were tragedies from the storm. A child died at Bentley when a snow bank collapsed and buried him. A man in North Red Deer died while trying to shovel out his driveway. Across the province, there were six deaths blamed on the blizzard.

The City issued a statement thanking the Public Works Department for its, “Herculean job of snow removal this winter.” Another commentator wrote that while, “Streets have been bad and sidewalks nearly impossible for walking for the past few days, it takes little imagination to see what the roads and walks would have been like without the steady efforts of the public works crews.”

The hope was expressed that, “Both motorists and pedestrians will be generous in expressing their appreciation.”

Finally, true spring seemed to come in early April, although temperatures plunged to -17C again on April 18th. Generally speaking, the snow began to melt away. Then, a new worry raised its head – flooding.

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