PINCHER CREEK’S CHANGEABLE WEATHER: DECEMBER 1926

In southwestern Alberta, we are visually reminded of changeable weather patterns which constantly keep us on our toes. The pages of history tell us that December of 1926 brought some very significant weather changes early that winter.

by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

In southwestern Alberta, we are visually reminded of the very changeable weather patterns which constantly keep us on our toes. Particularly true during the winter months, we often witness sudden fluctuations in temperature, gusty winds from the west, and significant accumulations of snow. Let’s step back into time, to December 1926, when the pages of history tell us that there were some very significant weather changes early that winter.

A CHINOOK OFFERED A REPRIEVE FROM THE WINTER WEATHER

According to the meteorology reports and press clippings of the time, Pincher Creek’s seasonal variable weather began on Friday, 10 December 1926. After witnessing a near week of daytime temperatures in the mid to high 30s degrees Fahrenheit (temperatures which were no doubt already being enjoyed), a warm Chinook suddenly blew in that evening. The night’s warmth peaked at a very balmy 48 degrees shortly before midnight, and what snow which had been left on the ground quickly melted into a small yet steady stream running down Pincher Creek’s Main Street. Although the strength of the wind gusts goes unrecorded in the official records, it was thought that it peaked at close to sixty miles per hour. No damage was reported but locals realized that they were witnessing yet another of our forceful Chinooks.

COLD TEMPERATURES AND SNOWFALL SWEPT IN!

And just like that, the weather changed! By daybreak on Saturday, the 11th, a strong winter blizzard had blown into town. The rather unusual thing about this weather disturbance was that it blew in from the southeast – most came in from the south or west, directly from the mountains. Within several hours, seven inches of snow had fallen in town, and higher accumulations were reported in the countryside heading down to Waterton Lakes. The local temperatures only dropped to 25 degrees on the old thermometer scale on 11th December but had plummeted to only four degrees on Sunday, and a daytime high of zero that Monday. On the night of the 14th, low had reached a blistering 30 degrees below zero – the coldest temperature yet recorded that season.

The onslaught of the winter weather quickly played havoc with local conditions. With the cold temperatures, people wisely stayed home whenever possible. Ranch chores still had to be done and were difficult to complete with the bitter cold accompanied by the often-deep snow. Travel in the rural areas was restricted for several days, and to the east and south of Pincher Creek, communications were in peril. It had been reported that with the deep snowfall, several telephone poles had been snapped & the lines disconnected.

By Wednesday, the 15th of December, local weather conditions once again changed. A partial Chinook had blown in. This meant that the daytime temperatures which followed until just after Christmas usually reached, with one or two warmer exceptions, the high 20s. Although the temperatures were more bearable for most, the changes did not mean an end to the snow. In fact, there was a further accumulation on Tuesday the 21st.

DRIFTING SNOW PLAYED HAVOC WITH TRAVEL CONDITIONS

The new problem was the extensive drifting of snow. The wind increases did not melt the white stuff but simply blew it into high drifts in the ditches and coulees as well as against the fences and buildings. The conditions were particularly harsh out in the rural areas where in several districts between Twin Butte and Waterton Lakes, roads became virtually impassable. Country roads of the 1920s were little more than pioneer trails, and given the technology and remoteness of these areas and their times, it was next to impossible to keep the roads clear. Only with a warmer Chinook which swept through the Pincher Creek area the week of New Year’s (the daytime temperature on New Year’s Eve reached a spring like 52 degrees Fahrenheit) did the drifts begin to melt and travel through these districts resume – at least until the next winter storm!

WEATHER KEEPER ANDREW CHRISTIE

As an interesting side note to this weather story from late 1926, many local history buffs will recall the name of Andrew Christie. Long before this date, he had been closely connected with the development of the coal mining industry in the Pincher Creek area, through the launch in the early 1880s of the Christie Mine southwest of town. From 1914 through 1932, Christie, then a local elder statesman, meticulously kept our local weather records for the Meteorological Service of Canada. Thanks to him, we now have in the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village Archives a very good historical record of Pincher Creek’s weather conditions from years ago.