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'A big help': Relief anticipated with rainfall to break dry spell in southeastern Alberta

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Parts of southern Alberta are expecting significant rainfall over the next few days, which is welcome news for farmers.

"It's going to be real helpful to all the farmers in southern Alberta," said Magrath farmer Gary Stanford.

"It will really help the dryland farmers and the cow pastures but also, it's going to be a big help for irrigation farmers."

Widespread rainfall totalling 50 to 70 millimetres is expected throughout southeastern Alberta.

Stanford serves as a delegate on the Alberta Grains Commission and farms wheat, barley, canola and alfalfa.

He's farmed for more than 40 years and says the past few have been some of his driest.

"There was no rain in April and the beginning of May. Through the summer, it was hot and dry," Stanford said.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued rainfall warnings for southeastern Alberta.

The agency says the bulk of the rain is expected on Monday night and on Tuesday and that rainfall totals will be variable.

"It will be significant -- probably some of the greatest rain we've seen in years across the region, as far as general coverage," said Drew Lerner, World Weather senior agriculture meteorologist.

According to Lerner, southern Alberta is entering its seventh year of below-normal precipitation, which has wiped out subsoil moisture.

For the area, this expected rainfall event is very important in providing subsoil moisture back into the area, helping plants grow.

"This won't break the drought. This will continue to ease the drought, and it's a huge benefit. We will definitely see some relief," Lerner said.

Lerner says this initial precipitation event provides enough time for follow-up rain to prevent the impact of dryness the area has experienced over the past few years.

"I do have a lot of good hope that we're going to see a fairly decent production year, even though the official drought will not necessarily be completely eliminated in this growing season," he said.

Tricia Stadnyk, a professor and Canada research chair in hydrologic modelling with the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering, calls the rain "good news" but not nearly enough to pull the area out of drought conditions.

"It will certainly help, in terms of the immediate soil moisture values," Stadnyk said.

"Right now, it's been such a deficiency in water storage that our groundwater levels, our lake levels and our river levels have decreased."

According to Stadnyk, much of the southeastern part of the province has been under drought conditions for the past three years.

She points to a lack of snowpack.

"We're actually at the point where we've depleted the natural storage in the environment," she said.

"So it will really take a much longer sustained period of wet conditions to pull us out of drought." 

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