Some years, Central Albertans enjoy glorious falls – with warm bright days and crisp dry air. Others are downright miserable – with cold wet weather and early snowfalls. Those who suffer the most during those miserable falls are the local farmers, since they are heavily dependent on good weather to get the annual harvest in.
One year that was particularly challenging occurred 46 years ago in the fall of 1972.
The spring and summer of 1972 had been rather cool and wet.
However, germination of the crops had been good, making yields look promising. Warm, dry weather came in August, with temperatures reaching as high as 30C towards the end of the month.
Hence, while crops matured somewhat later than usual, farmers felt that they should be able to pull in a better than average harvest.
The first warning sign of troubles with the weather came on Sept. 1st. A frost was recorded in some areas across Central Alberta. Things turned much worse on Sept. 6th.
There was a significant wet snowfall. That was followed by the first killing frost.
However, the snow soon melted and the heavy frost did not do as much damage as feared. Farmers remained hopeful for a pleasant Indian Summer and a successful harvest.
Harvesting progressed reasonably well with approximately 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the crops getting swathed by the middle of September. However, threshing lagged with only 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the combining being completed.
Conditions then turned cool and damp, which slowed progress on the harvest.
Real disaster struck on Sept. 19th with a major blizzard.
Heavy snowfalls, accompanied by high winds, flattened many of the crops still standing. Temperatures remained well below normal for a few days and even more snow fell. The harvest ground to a complete halt.
Warmer and drier conditions returned at the end of the September. However, the harvest was now well behind normal. An estimated 80 per cent of prairie farmers reported having major difficulties in getting their crops off.
Given the growing seriousness of the situation, farmers pressed ahead as quickly as was possible. Some warm dry winds helped to brighten the outlook. Nevertheless, only half of the harvest was complete by the first week of October.
Thanksgiving weekend looked like it would bring more good weather.
The Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with the Alberta Department of Agriculture, asked if people could help farmers with the harvest over the holiday weekend, particularly if they had experience working on farms.
Thanksgiving lived up to its promise with temperatures reaching as high as 24C.
Then another disaster struck just as the holiday weekend came to a close. Another severe blizzard struck with lots of snow and deep cold. Once again, the harvest ground to a halt.
Many people began to fear a repeat of the miserable fall of 1968 when many farmers were still attempting to combine in early December and a lot of crops remained in the fields until spring.
Things improved again by the third week of October and local farmers pressed ahead at a frantic pace. Some dumped the threshed grain in large piles in the fields, instead of putting it into granaries, in order to avoid any lull in the combining.
Yet another snowfall hit at the end of October with 5 to 6cm of snow still on the ground at Halloween. Things got a bit better in early November, but there were frequent heavy fogs as warm moist air hit the lingering cold air.
That slowed any progress with the combining.
Most farmers reported that the main part of the harvest was complete by the time freeze-up hit and any new snow on the ground was there for the winter. Nevertheless, there was still a fair bit of unharvested grain in many fields.
The reminder of those crops were cleaned up in the spring.
However, households throughout the countryside and in the City were now besieged by an epidemic of mice.
Those rodents had spent a pleasant winter in the swaths, with lots of food and an improved ability to produce large numbers of babies. As the weather warmed up in the spring, they quickly spread out looking for yet more places to settle in.