South Peace News
Firefighters and farmers in the High Prairie region welcomed an unseasonal heavy wet snowfall on May 19-20 to soak the dry conditions.
It allowed the Slave Lake Wildfire Management Area to drop the wildfire danger to low after weeks at the extreme level. They also lifted the ban on outdoor fires and off-highway vehicles in forested areas.
“It helped quite a bit,” says Big Lakes County fire chief Leo Tobin. “Now people can have backyard fires and campfires.”
In fact, the spring snowfall was more effective than rain.
“Snow is our best friend because it seeps into the ground,” Tobin says.
Rain can mostly run off.
Tobin reminds people to remain cautious and safe with outdoor fires during dry weather.
“It was the best thing that could happen for fires because it had a chance to soak into the ground,” says High Prairie fire chief Ken Melnyk.
However, more precipitation is needed to keep the risk low.
“If we get a week of hot dry weather with wind, all that moisture will evaporate and we’ll be back in extreme fire hazards,” Melnyk says.
Weather forecasts last week called for several days with rain to end May.
“It’s unfortunate the snow did damage trees and cause other problems,” Melnyk says.
Heavy, wet snow caused tree branches to fall onto power lines that put countless people in the dark. ATCO Electric crews were kept busy for several days.
Farmers were delighted with the wet weather.
“It’s tremendous,” says Len Parke, a beef farmer in the Alder Ridge area, on the west border of the county.
“We got about 10 inches of wet snow, I guess that’s about three-and-a-half inches of water.”
Usually snow doesn’t affect the seed as much as frost would, he says.
“It was desperately needed for grassland and pasture because it was starting to brown off, and dry up,” Parke says.
He adds it will also get rid of grasshoppers that struck the area last year and were starting to appear before the snowfall.
In 2010, Parke recalls snow fell on the Victoria Day weekend in May, and killed off all the grasshoppers.
Farther south, at least 12 inches of snow fell in the Sunset House area, says Ann Stewart, a councillor for Big Lakes County.
No snow was reported east of Enilda and north of Prairie Echo.
For those who planted gardens, the snow appeared to do minimal damage.
“Most people faired pretty well,” says Christie Pollack, co-owner of Christie’s Gardens and Greenhouses.
“But sensitive produce like cucumbers may not have done as well.”
When warm and dry weather returns, local fire chiefs advise people to be cautious with outdoor fires.
County residents may phone Tobin at  776-0007 Monday to Friday during the days and  523-8778 evenings and weekends.
For town residents, phone Melnyk at his office at  523-3525.