Elk Glen, MB (Photo by NCC)

Elk Glen, MB (Photo by NCC)

Winter Weather Watchers

White-tailed deer (Photo by Wayne Boudreau)

White-tailed deer (Photo by Wayne Boudreau)

Why are Winter Weather Watchers important?

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has partnered with the Manitoba Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Fisheries Branch and is looking for volunteer citizen scientists to become Winter Weather Watchers.

Climate and climate change have profound impacts on ecosystems and the species that live in them. As a conservation organization that works on a landscape scale, NCC has a great interest in the effects of global climate change on local ecosystems and wildlife species.

Winter Weather Watchers can help NCC staff assess the impact of winter and climate change on species that live in these landscapes.

How does winter affect species?

Winter can greatly affect species in a number of ways, from reproductive success rates to individual survival. Species reproduction and mortality trends are important clues to understanding how climate stresses are impacting ecosystems. This information can also assist staff in the management of species such as white-tailed deer, whose populations are managed as part of provincial big-game management programming.

Winter severity is influenced by temperature and snow depth, which can affect deer movements, access to quality food and increase energy stress. The current low population status of white-tailed deer in the province is attributed to the recent cycle of severe winters throughout the deer range. The severe winters of 201011, 201213 and 201314 are prime factors in these population trends.

For other species, like the endangered Poweshiek skipperling, deep snow is beneficial as it insulates overwintering individuals. Meanwhile, species like the western prairie white-fringed orchid have a complicated relationship with snow. Deep snow in midwinter benefits orchids, while deep snow in late winter is detrimental. Small mammals depend on snow cover to insulate the under-snow environment that they live in for much of the year.

The job of a Winter Weather Watcher

Winter Weather Watchers will record temperature and snow depth data that is representative of local and regional weather conditions. Data collected from a network of monitoring stations will be assembled by NCC and provided to Conservation and Water Stewardship. This information will be used by NCC staff to inform their conservation programming and by the Wildlife and Fisheries Branch to assess winter conditions and winter severity. This information will also be used to assist with management decisions and scientific understanding of the winter ecology of species like white-tailed deer, endangered butterflies and more.

Ideally, Winter Weather Watchers will monitor conditions from November 1 to April 30.

For more information, contact Rebekah at 1-204-725-5969 or manitoba@conservationvolunteers.ca.

Winter Weather Watchers monitoring stations

In order to adequately assess weather conditions throughout the deer range on an annual basis, data needs to be collected from a minimum of 25 weather monitoring stations in an area that ranges east and north to Bissett, south to the U.S. border, west to the Saskatchewan border and north as far as The Pas.

NCC is working towards establishing a winter weather watch network across four natural areas, using NCC properties as the locations of the monitoring stations. The exact locations of the stations will be established based on the location of individuals or groups of citizen scientists who adopt a station.

How does it work?

To monitor the relative severity of winter on white-tailed deer, the Wildlife Fisheries Branch uses a Winter Severity Index (WSI), which is a general measure of winter conditions based on the knowledge that prolonged cold temperatures and deep snow can reduce overwinter survival. 

The data will be collected from November 1 to April 30 in the form of:

  • daily average temperatures (ºC); and
  • weekly accumulated snow depths (cm).


Daily temperature data will be collected from local thermometers, the closest automated Environment Canada or The Weather Network websites. The following daily temperatures will be recorded on a weekly basis data sheet:

  • the maximum (warmest) daily temperature (ºC);
  • the minimum (coldest) daily temperature (ºC);
  • the mean daily temperature (ºC). The daily mean is calculated by averaging the daily minimum (cold) low and maximum (warmest) high temperatures.

Snow depth measurements

Snow depth measurements will be taken once a week in a forested area. Data collection of snow measurements must begin once snow remains permanently on the ground and will continue through the winter until the ground is snow free.

Measurements will be taken at ground/eye-level. Snow depth measurements will be recorded along a straight line transect at 10 permanent sites, with each site located 20 metres apart in untracked (unpacked) snow. The mean value of the 10 measurements will be recorded as the total snow depth for the station and logged into the weekly data sheet.

The following criteria will be used to assist the selection of snow transects:

  • snow stations to be located within a forested area/stand;
  • transect lines are to be located in a forested area/stand of moderate to heavy density with an average tree height of six metres or greater;
  • the terrain should be relatively level with little or no overall gradient;
  • straight line transects of station sites can be set up in any direction;
  • transect lines should not pass within 40 metres of any clearing, lake, road or other opening which could lead to drifting snow.

Submission of data

Individual weather monitoring stations must submit data each week to their designated representative by the following Monday.

Data will be submitted to NCC electronically, to be proofed and formatted prior to sending to the Province of Manitoba.

Materials provided

  • 10 metal posts (trees or other materials can be used) — posts must be a minimum of three metres in length with a diameter of no more than five centimetres;
  • 10 metal metric measuring rules — one metre in length (to be attached to posts at ground level);
  • a digital thermometer.


Results of the winter weather monitoring will inform NCC of the potential impacts of climate and climate change on Manitoba's ecosystems and feed the Winter Severity Index database in Manitoba to assist in determining the winter severity within the white-tailed deer range in the province.

Results of the Winter Severity Index modelling will be shared by NCC and the Province of Manitoba with citizen scientists to inform them on how the information was used and the assessment of winter climate conditions on white-tailed deer.

Results will also be available to scientists and NCC staff studying species such as the Poweshiek skipperling, western prairie fringed orchid and small mammals.

Want more information?

For more information on the Winter Weather Watchers program, contact Rebekah at 1-204-725.5969 or manitoba@conservationvolunteers.ca.

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