The miserable spring of 1920

The miserable spring of 1920

Truly warm dry weather did not appear until the end of June

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.

One of the worst springs occurred in 1920, while Red Deer was still struggling with the difficult aftermath of the First World War.

The winter of 1919-1920 had been a brutal one.

Cold weather and snow hit with a vengeance during November. By the middle of the month, there was nearly a metre of snow on the ground. By the end of the November, temperatures plunged to -37C. The early onset of winter caught many people without adequate supplies of coal on hand.

The local coal and firewood suppliers scrambled to bring in enough fuel to meet the sudden demand.

The cold and snow continued through Christmastime and on into the New Year.

By the middle of January, the local thermometers were recording temperatures as low as –46C.

Most public meetings had to be cancelled due to the extreme weather.

March failed to bring the usual relief of an emerging spring. There were several days when the temperatures fell as low as -30C to -35C. Most herds of cattle were literally starving, because of the continuing cold weather and a growing lack of feed.

One farmer reported that when he tried to transport some oat straw to feed his own animals, several frantic cattle began chasing his sleigh in hopes of grabbing a few bites of food off the end of the sleigh box.

At the end of March, the newspapers reported the first sightings of bluebirds, hopefully a sign that spring was finally coming. However, instead the first week of April brought more misery. Temperatures dropped to nearly -30C on April 2nd.

It was not until April 10th that conditions finally improved and it remained above freezing for an extended period of time.

While the warmer weather was sincerely welcomed, a new set of problems emerged. As the heavy banks of snow began to melt, with the ground still frozen, much of the water became run-off instead of being absorbed into the soil.

The meltwater began to build in the Red Deer River and Waskasoo Creek. With temperatures finally reaching 10 degrees above, the ice went out on the river on Sunday, April 25th.

However, there was still so much ice upstream that another break-up swept past the City on the following Tuesday.

On Wednesday, April 28th, Waskasoo Creek went into one of the worst floods in history. The floodwaters surged across the east end of Ross Street towards the north side of Gaetz Church and the old creek bed running westwards towards 52nd St.

City crews worked feverishly to build dikes along 48th Ave. to keep the flood from sweeping into the downtown core along the old creek beds to Gaetz Avenue.

In some places, the dikes had to be more than 2m in height.

Care had to be also taken to keep the floodwaters from sweeping into the sewer system. If that had happened, the mains would have been overwhelmed and new problems would have emerged in other parts of the City.

After several hours of hard work, the flood began to ease.

Flood levels dropped by almost half a metre overnight. There were worries that there would be a new wave of floodwaters as the temperatures rose again through the daytime hours on Thursday. However, any increase in flow was handled by the extensive diking that had been put in place the preceding day.

The City and volunteer crews began to breathe a sigh of relief. Extensive damage to downtown businesses had been narrowly averted.

However, the frustrations over the late spring continued. On May 2nd, another 12cm of wet snow fell creating another wave of misery and seriously delaying spring planting for the farmers. Truly warm dry weather did not appear until the end of June.