High waves due to the strong winds in Gimli.

Colorado Low Slams Southern Manitoba Over May Long Weekend

Southern Manitoba was slammed by a powerful Colorado Low this past weekend that brought a wide array of severe weather to the province. Between heavy rain, ice pellets, snow and very strong winds, the storm wreaked havoc on the regions infrastructure with widespread damage to trees, power outages, closed highways, structural damage and overland flooding.

The system was, fortunately, well forecast by Environment Canada with fairly accurate forecasts issued in the days leading up to it alongside special weather statements addressing the numerous impacts the system may have on the region.

Significant Rainfall Began Saturday Afternoon

Fortunately, the weather was able to hold for much of Saturday. Temperatures climbed into the low 20’s across Southern Manitoba with increasing cloudiness. Rain & thunderstorms developed through North Dakota & Montana and lifted northwards through the day, first spreading into SW Manitoba in the afternoon and then eastwards and northwards through the evening and overnight period.

Some of the hardest hit regions were in SW Manitoba where hours of training thunderstorms & convective showers produced moderate to heavy rain. The Melita region was hit the hardest with 72mm of the grand total 90mm of rain falling by midnight on Saturday night. For areas further east, through, much of the rain fell through Saturday night & Sunday. Total rainfall amounts for Saturday and Sunday combined were:

Rainfall Totals for May 16–17, 2015 – Environment Canada & Manitoba Agriculture (*) Stations
LocationRainfall Total (mm)
Melita90
Bede*83
Gretna63
Carman60
Deloraine*57
Deerwood55
Morden51
Kleefeld48
Reston*48
Dugald*45
Pilot Mound44
Emerson43
Pierson*43
Letellier*41
Winnipeg (Forks)41
Portage East*40
Portage Southport40
Woodlands*38
Oak Point37
McCreary36
Winnipeg Airport36
Pinawa36
Great Falls34
Carberry33
Sprague32
Virden*30
Brandon29
Fisher Branch29
Cypress River28
Glenboro*27
St. Pierre*25
Wasagaming24
Dauphin22
Teulon*21
Killarney*20
Wawanesa*20
Minnedosa*17
Eriksdale*16
Roblin16
Souris*15
Berens River14

This rainfall is in addition to the 25–50mm of rain many areas in the region saw just a couple days prior to this storm. There were several areas that saw significant overland flooding due to the sheer quantity of water that fell over the short time frame.

Additionally, there were reports of sewage back-up and spotty basement flooding across Winnipeg.

Then Came the Wind

Sunday is where the brunt of the storm impact was felt. As the main low pressure centre lifted northwards into the Dakotas, a strong 1037mb high pressure centre was building into the central Prairies.

Surface analysis for early Sunday morning.
This surface analysis for early Sunday morning shows the strong low in the Dakotas and the strong high building into the central Prairies.

These systems produced a strong pressure gradient over southern Manitoba and produced some of the strongest, longest-duration winds for a major storm in recent memory. Winds were in excess of 50km/h for 20 hours in Winnipeg with a 6-hour stretch beginning late Sunday with winds of 60km/h or greater. Very strong gusts also accompanied the winds with Winnipeg recording the highest wind gust at 93km/h:

Peak Wind Gusts for May 17, 2015
LocationPeak Wind (km/h)Time (CDT)
Winnipeg936:44PM
Gimli Harbour899:38PM
Carberry874:57PM
Brandon8310:00AM
Kleefeld814:14PM
Cypress River815:01PM
Pilot Mound812:45PM
Gretna812:28PM
Melita806:11PM
Emerson804:21PM
Gimli804:21PM
Porgae la Prairie804:51PM

The winds may have been the most significant impact from this storm. The strong winds resulted in havoc on the highways, property damage, hundreds of downed trees, and widespread power outages. The strong winds also produced significant wave action on Lake Winnipeg and some overland flooding as rising lake levels resulted in the lake overspilling its banks and pushing inland in some locations.

Winds tapered off to 40 gusting 60km/h on Sunday night, but remained fairly strong until tapering off Monday afternoon.

Oh, Snow Too

If the rain and the wind wasn’t enough, cold air moving in with the high pressure system resulted in precipitation switching over to ice pellets then snow beginning over Parkland Manitoba and then spreading southeastwards through the Interlake, Red River Valley & Whiteshell through the afternoon and evening. Areas through the Interlake southwestwards towards the Melita region saw the heaviest snow, with MacGregor reporting the highest amount of snow at 15cm. Amounts of 10–15cm were seen from Arnes, on the western shores of Lake Winnipeg, through Teulon, MacGregor, Treherne and down towards Boissevain:

Snowfall Totals for May 17–18, 2015 – EC Spotters & Social Media
LocationSnowfall Total (cm)
MacGregor15
Teulon15
Arnes10
Boissevain10
Treherne10
Hollow Water FN5
Albert Beach5
Dauphin5
Deloraine5
Wasagaming5
Winnipeg3

In Winnipeg, we saw just a few cm of snow on Friday evening and overnight. Flurries persisted through Monday but temperatures were warm enough to prevent any more accumulation.

All in all, this was certainly one of the most powerful storms Southern Manitoba has seen in a good long while. Perhaps the best thing that can be said is that at least it happened now and not a month earlier, where almost certainly it would have been a historic blizzard.

Brad

Brad

Brad lives in Winnipeg with his wife and two children and is the founder of A Weather Moment. He has loved weather from a very young age and has followed that passion through his life so far. He received a B.Sc. in Earth Sciences with Specialization in Atmospheric Sciences and is currently employed in the field of meteorology.You can find the author as @WeatherInThePeg on Twitter.