The cold snaps experienced early this winter offer us a glimpse into those changeable winter weather patterns of the past. A look back to the winter of 1917-18 provides a few local illustrations of the volatile weather conditions to which we begrudgingly have become accustomed.
Winter weather for Christmas 1917
According to the old records, Christmas 1917 dawned cold and was accompanied by fairly high snowfalls. The coldest was the morning of Christmas Eve, when the temperature dipped down to 26 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit. Overnight temperatures remained almost that cold for the next four nights, and daytime readings fluctuated between –11 and 20 degrees on the old scale.
Meteorological notes indicate that seven inches of snow fell during those five days, and local press reports indicate that the snowfall was widespread throughout southwestern Alberta.
A chinook rolled into town one day
In typical local fashion, everything changed virtually overnight.
On Saturday, Dec. 29, 1917, one of Pincher Creek’s infamous and most welcome chinooks blew fiercely into town. The temperature rose dramatically. Registering a cold 0 as the day’s low, it rose a tremendous 52 degrees by 8 p.m. that evening.
The editor of the pioneer press reported that water was running down Main Street by early Saturday morning and that locals, concerned about a possible flood, were clearing obstructions away from the street drains. By evening, most of the snow had melted but everything was one massive mud hole.
The warm weather continued until January 1918, and within 24 hours of the initial warming trend, the streets in town had virtually dried out. Our pioneers knew they could never underestimate the power of those westerly winds.
Even in the country, the conditions were thawing out. As early as noon on that changeable Saturday, motorists were able to come into town from points as far south as Twin Butte. This was no mean feat, given motor vehicle technology as well as the road conditions of the time, aided and abetted by the heavy snow that had built up the previous month.
A March storm blew in
Local temperatures made the usual winter fluctuations during the rest of January and February. Late in February, another storm blew into the Pincher Creek area, and, although temperatures still hovered in the 10 to 20 F range, this weather change was noted more for its snowfalls and gusty winds.
On Feb. 24, just under a foot of snow fell in town and, according to local folklore, up to eight additional inches fell in the foothills and mountains. The following two days the winds picked up to gale force, and the press reported that at times it was nearly impossible to see across any street in town due to the blowing snow.
By 9 p.m. on the 26th, the winds had died down and the snow-covered landscape had changed significantly in typical Pincher Creek fashion: there were wide areas where the ground was swept bare of snow, yet in the sheltered areas there were high, deeply crusted drifts.
Located in great numbers throughout the countryside, these drifts made travel difficult. Bus connections with the trails at Pincher Station had great difficulty in travelling back and forth, and reportedly got stuck on a regular basis.
Conditions to the west and south of town told similar stories. Large drifts that accumulated along Lang’s Coulee as well as at Mountain Mill made it very difficult to reach Beaver Mines for several days, and blizzard conditions at Waterton Lakes virtually closed down activity there.
The only saving grace was that the storm did not block rail traffic along the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Crowsnest line: the trains had enough power to get through the drifting snow.
As we now watch the current winter weather unfold, we are reminded that Pincher Creek’s very changeable weather patterns truly have not changed all that much over the years.