Okanagan snowpack dips to 74% of normal, lowest in B.C.

FILE. The Okanagan snowpack is 74% of normal this year. Global News

Cooler spring days and nights may be just what the Okanagan needs.

The Okanagan’s snowpack is well below what’s expected this time of year, dropping to 74 per cent of normal on April 1 from the previous 86 per cent of normal recorded on March 1, according to the BC River Forecast Centre, which collects data at the first of every month.

“It really just spoke to the relatively dry conditions that occurred throughout the month,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the BC River Forecast Centre.

“Also, the fairly warm weather in the final week of March actually kick-started the snowmelt process at the low and mid-elevation sites in the basin.”

Read more: B.C. snowpack near normal, but forecast warns of ‘slightly elevated’ flood risk

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It’s the lowest snowpack volume in the province, Boyd said, and the potential repercussions are concerning.

While flooding may not be an issue, looking further ahead summer drought conditions and wildfires are potentially greater.

That said, early indicators aren’t always right.

B.C. snowpack as of April 1.
B.C. snowpack as of April 1. BC River Forecast Centre

“It’s very similar to the case in 2019 when the snowpack for April 1 was 72 per cent of normal,” Boyd said.

“It looked like it was set up for an extreme drought year (with) potentially extreme wildfire. … What ended up happening in 2019 was that we got quite a bit of (precipitation) in the spring and especially through the summer. So the weather is a big factor moving forward.”

Also, there has been some growth in the snowpacks since the measurements were taken.

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Boyd said the automated snow weather stations in the Mission Creek area have shown some growth in the last day or two.

At Brenda Mine, which is about 1,400 metres in elevation, it was starting to look like the earliest runoff in 30 years. But in the last couple of days, as temperatures dropped, the rate of snowmelt slowed significantly.

It’s a sign that conditions may be different than last year.

“We actually had an extreme heatwave in the second, third weeks of April and this appears to be the complete opposite which actually could be a good thing for the Okanagan,” he said.

“It just delays the melt and the longer the melt is delayed is probably the better for the watershed as a whole in terms of drought and wildfire risk.”

Meanwhile, in other parts of B.C., a combination of a healthy snowpack and anticipated cooler weather suggests the province is at a “slightly elevated” risk of flooding from spring runoff, according to the B.C. River Forecast Centre.

READ MORE: Abbotsford moves ahead on costly flood prevention plans

The April Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, published Friday, found snowpack levels ranging from 74 to 134 per cent of normal in varying regions, averaging out to 99 per cent provincewide.

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“The combination of near-normal April 1 snowpack, La Niña conditions forecast to persist through spring, recent snow accumulation during the first week of April, and seasonal weather forecasts that predict cooler conditions for the province means a slightly elevated risk for freshet-related flooding,” the bulletin said.

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