Between the polar vortex, flash freezes, and weather bombs, a typical Canadian winter is packed with weather events that sound like they’re straight out of an action movie. But there’s one particular storm that rises above all the others in the pantheon of fantastic names: the Saskatchewan screamer. But what is a Saskatchewan screamer, anyway?
The cold season is dominated by snowstorms both large and small. The big storms get all the billing, of course, but it’s the little snowfalls—a few centimetres here, a few centimetres there—that really add up and fill out the bulk of our winters.
We’re most familiar with Alberta clippers, those small low-pressure systems that form on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains and race across the Prairies toward the eastern sections of Canada and the United States. Not all of these storms form right near the Rockies, though.
Clipper-like systems can form across all three Prairie provinces. When one of these storms forms over Saskatchewan, we call it a Saskatchewan screamer instead of an Alberta clipper.
What’s so special about a Saskatchewan screamer? They’re usually harmless, but sometimes they can pack a mean punch.
Screamers form over Saskatchewan as cold Arctic air floods south over the province while milder Pacific air flows over the Rockies. Upper-level winds can lead to the formation of a low-pressure system at the surface.
This newly formed storm can tap into limited moisture flowing over the mountains to produce modest snowfall totals. Many of these moisture-starved systems come and go without more than a dusting of snow. But it’s not the snowfall itself that gives a Saskatchewan screamer its name—or its howl.
The fast forward motion and ripping winds of a Saskatchewan screamer can lead to blizzard-like conditions along its track. Wicked winds can whip up even a light dusting of snow into a potentially deadly whiteout.
Saskatchewan screamers can be especially disruptive in southern Ontario and parts of the eastern United States when they roll through the region. Occasionally, an infusion of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico can lead to a sudden—and sometimes surprising—snowstorm for communities in the system’s path.
The effects don’t end with the system’s immediate snow and wind. Sometimes, one of these screamers can seed the development of even larger snowstorms farther away.
A Saskatchewan screamer that developed in the middle of January 2022 swooped down over the United States and served as the root of the big blizzard that buried Toronto and Ottawa under dozens of centimetres of snow a few days later.