Alberta snowpack currently average to below average

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WATCH ABOVE: Alberta officials are keeping a close eye on the snowpack in the mountains west of Calgary. As Adam MacVicar reports, the snowpack along with rain have an impact on possible flooding – May 30, 2019

Snowpack in the Rocky Mountains near Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise is average to below average for this time of the year.

Officials with Alberta Environment spent the day on Thursday visiting multiple remote sites to test the remaining snow in the area.

The monitoring technologists were also cross-referencing their findings with data at multiple weather stations that send real-time measurements via satellite.

But once a month, every winter and every spring, the technicians fly over the vast mountain range — where typically only wildlife roam — to test the 10 sites by hand.

Some areas are so remote, they are only accessible by helicopter.

The technologists trudged through the remaining snow, sometimes needing cross-country skis to avoid sinking into the slushy snow.

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They used a tube to check the height of the snow. Each station is tested several times to ensure the reading is correct.

READ MORE: Opinions clash on Calgary flood mitigation berms

Thursday’s trip was the fifth and final test of the season, as they expect the remaining snow to melt within the next month.

“We’re just trying to get an idea of how much water is represented by the snowpack, and upping our headwaters for the Bow River,” said Jon Pedlar, a monitoring technologist with Alberta Environment.

The data collected is used by operations staff for managing reservoir levels and other water management.

It is also used for flood forecasting.

But officials said the snowpack will never be the sole driver of flooding in the Bow River. Pedlar said while it is a factor, heavy rain is the biggest variable.

“Snowpack itself will never lead to a flood directly, or at least not a large scale flood like we saw in 2013,” he said. “We tend to get big precipitation events around this time of year, those are the main drivers behind [what] an event like 2013 would be.
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“Snowpack plays a fairly reduced role when we talk about flooding.”

Last month, the City of Calgary unveiled its flood plan and said it would be monitoring the river closely between May 15 and July 15.

READ MORE: Flood forecast: What does 2019 look like for Calgary?

But following tests in the mountains on Thursday, the snowpack is sitting below average.

“What we’ve been seeing is pretty average to slightly below average snowpack over the season,” Pedlar said. “It’s melting off a little early, but it’s a pretty typical season.”

Officials recommend using the Alberta Rivers App to access any of the data collected at the sites.

Information on the snowpack has been collected at those sites for more than three decades.

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