The latest B.C. snowpack levels are in, and, in the Southern Interior, they’re lower than normal.
On Friday, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations released its snow survey and water supply bulletin for March. For the Okanagan, the snowpack level was listed at 81 per cent of normal. The Similkameen is even lower at 72 per cent, while the Boundary region is at just 68 per cent.
Of the 24 basins across the province, only five were at 100 per cent or more of their snowpack levels: Upper Fraser West (106 per cent), Middle Fraser (100), North Thompson (100), Upper Columbia (100) and Peace (103). The lowest two basins were Stikine (59) and Boundary (68).
The ministry said B.C.’s snowpack is around 80 per cent, with accumulation ranging from well below normal to normal, but that snowpack levels could rise over the next four to eight weeks.
“Seasonal snowpack can still change significantly with one to two more months of possible snow accumulation left in winter and spring 2019,” said the ministry.
“At this stage in the season, there is no elevated flood risk present in the current snowpack across the province.”
The ministry also said predicted volume runoff forecasts are in the near-normal range — 85 per cent to 105 per cent – for the Upper Fraser, Middle Fraser-Thompson, Skeena and Bulkley regions and Okanagan Lake basins.
The predicted volume runoff forecasts are in the below-normal range – below 85 per cent – for the Similkameen, Nicola Lake plus Kalamalka and Wood Lake.
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This year’s snowpack levels are dramatically different from last year’s levels.
On March 1, 2018, the snowpack level in the Okanagan was 141 per cent, the Boundary region was at 136 per cent and the Similkameen was at 144 per cent.
Yet, on March 1, 2017, the snowpack level in the Okanagan was at 86 per cent. The Boundary region was at 59 per cent and the Similkameen was at 83 per cent.
As to why there are low snowpack levels this year, blame El Niño.
The Climate Prediction Centre (CPC) of the U.S. National Weather Service says El Niño conditions are present and that equatorial sea surface temperatures are above average across most of the Pacific Ocean.
Further, the CPC said weak El Niño conditions are expected to continue through the northern hemisphere for spring.
The ministry says, typically, El Niño conditions are linked to warmer winters across British Columbia, with a trend towards lower-than-normal snowpack levels.
“Warmer temperatures were present throughout the province in December and January,” said the ministry. “However, a strong arctic air-mass significantly influenced British Columbia in February and offset these typical El Niño impacts. February temperatures through the province were much lower than normal, reaching record lows in several regions.
“The impact of El Niño on winter snowpack in B.C. is highly variable and does not always mean lower snowpack (levels).”
The ministry said it will continue to monitor snowpack conditions and will provide an updated seasonal flood risk forecast in the April 1 bulletin, which is scheduled for release on April 8.