Chance of drought looms with rainfall well below average in parts of B.C.

Click to play video: 'Chance of drought looms with rainfall well below average in parts of B.C.'
Chance of drought looms with rainfall well below average in parts of B.C.
WATCH: You may be tired of all the rain we've had this past week, but in reality, we've actually had a dry early spring. A drought is not yet forecast but there is a precipitation deficit in many parts of the province. And as Kylie Stanton tells us, that may affect our upcoming fire season. – Apr 24, 2023

Late winter and early spring may have felt damp and dreary, but in reality British Columbia has seen lower-than average rainfall — raising the concerns about a potentially dry summer.

“Obviously we’ve had a few storms, but generally speaking we are talking about a deficit that is multi-month, multi-season at this point,” Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist Armell Castellan explained.

“We are now about to turn a pretty strong corner from a much cooler than normal seasonal pattern that we’ve had really since the second half of February, and about to change that really in a heartbeat here at the end of the week.”

Castellan said it’s too early to forecast whether parts of the province could see drought conditions this summer, but the lingering consequences of last year’s unusually dry fall are still being felt.

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Click to play video: 'B.C. officials tracking risk of flood and wildfire'
B.C. officials tracking risk of flood and wildfire

Last year’s dry fall remains a concern for the BC Wildfire Service, which has recorded 40 fires so far this spring.

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That’s well below the 10-year average, but wildfire information officer Karley Desrosiers said dry conditions on the ground could see that change quickly.

“Things were drier than usual coming into the winter because we did have hotter than average days throughout the month of October, we were seeing temperatures about four to 10 degrees higher on an given day,” she said.

“Then winter came really quickly, so that quick transition from almost summer-like conditions to winter meant the ground froze quickly and didn’t allow what we typically see: the fall precipitation able to seep into the ground and really saturate it, so unfortunately those over-winter drought conditions weren’t really mitigated.”

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The wildfire service is keeping a particular eye on a number of exceptionally dry pockets in the Kamloops fire centre, she said.

Desrosiers said that pattern has left fine fuels like grass and brush tinder-dry, and susceptible both to ignition and rapid fire spread in windy conditions.

How those early dry conditions will translate into a summer fire season, however, remains to be seen.

Desrosiers said the severity of the season will depend primarily on how much precipitation falls in the next two months.

Click to play video: 'Water restrictions lifted on Sunshine Coast'
Water restrictions lifted on Sunshine Coast

“It’s really going to come down to how much rain and the duration of rain events we get in May and June is generally the biggest predictor of wildfire activity,” she said.

“It’s not enough if we get a ton of rain one or two times. We really need those longer periods of pretty substantial amounts of rain to mitigate that drought.”

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While a dry summer remains a concerning possibility, the province will likely have to contend with the opposite in the short term.

Snowpack across the province currently sits at about 88 per cent of normal, and as the first hot weather of the year approaches, looks set to begin melting in earnest.

“We are anticipating that this weekend will really kick-start that process,” Dave Campbell with the BC River Forecast Centre said.

“We’re going to see rivers around the province coming up as that snow starts to melt, and so that could mean flood issues in parts of the interior and generally.”

While B.C. has been under a La Niña climate pattern for the last three years, which helped with cooler-than-usual Pacific temperatures, Environment Canada has said that could potentially flip to a strong El Niño pattern by late summer — possibly adding another warming element to the mix.

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