Drought conditions that plagued B.C.’s forests over the summer appear to have persisted through fall, creating headaches on some southern B.C. ski hills.
But a little help from Mother Nature may be on the way.
Big White near Kelowna has been forced to twice postpone its opening, and is now banking on a shift in weather this weekend to deliver a Dec. 5 opening.
Big White senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingall said the mountain has about 35 to 40 centimetres of snow so far. Typically it aims for 70 centimetres, but has opened in the past with just 55.
“It’s amazing what a ski resort can do with 10 centimetres of fresh snow, so we are hoping these storms that are coming in back to back this weekend are going to deliver exactly what we need so we can open on Tuesday,” he said.
Ballingall added that the latest the resort has ever opened was on Dec. 9, but said that year also turned out to be its second-snowiest on record.
“Stressful, yes, but unexpected, no,” he said of the repeated delays in opening.
“It’s going to snow, it’s just when is it going to snow.”
According to Environment Canada, that “when” may be “soon.”
Meteorologist Lisa Erven said that while fall storms have failed to produce a large volume of snow on some mountains in a way they typically do, a shift is coming.
“It’s certainly a challenging start to our winter season, however, we are entering a drastic change in our weather pattern beginning (Thursday),” she said.
“We do have a series of storms impacting the province of B.C. and we’re actually going to see snow down to fairly low elevations.”
Erven added that after three years of La Nina climate patterns, there is a shift expected to El Nino this season — but one that likely won’t manifest until the second half of winter.
That could potentially lead to warmer and drier conditions, but she cautioned that the link between El Nino and the weather is not a “slam dunk.”
In the meantime, the snow forecast is best understood as a function of just what kind of storms are rolling into the province, she said.
“If they are coming more from the west or the northwest, those storms are going to be colder, and that’s what we are seeing this coming weekend, and the drop in freezing levels,” she explained.
“Versus if a storm system is approaching from the SW, its going to bring in more of those mild temperatures and higher freezing levels.”
According to the province, drought conditions remain at Level 4 or Level 5 in B.C.’s northeast, central and southeast regions.