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Low B.C. snowpacks reduce flood risk, hike chance of summer droughts

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Snowpacks across British Columbia are below normal this year, reducing the likelihood of flooding but raising the spectre of dry conditions this summer.

The River Forecast Centre has released its latest Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin showing the average of all mountain snowpacks in B.C. is calculated at just 79 per cent of normal.

The Upper Fraser West stood at 98 per cent of normal, Upper Fraser East at 92 per cent and the Nechako at 87 per cent according to the bulletin dated May 1.

"Close to normal seasonal flood risk is expected," in the Upper Fraser.

The northwest, Vancouver Island, Nicola and Similkameen regions have snowpacks below 60 per cent of normal.

The Skagit, which lies along the United States border between Hope and Princeton, has a snowpack level of just 15 per cent of normal, while the report says no regions in B.C. have above normal snow levels.

Melting, especially at the low- to mid-level in the southern Interior, has been well ahead of schedule while the bulletin warns that limited runoff across Vancouver Island, the south coast and Lower Fraser regions could create low flow issues in rivers this summer.

It also flags the well-below normal snowpack in the northwest and Stikine regions as an indication for the potential for low seasonal runoff.

Although the unseasonably early snowmelt pattern and skimpy overall snowpacks could affect river levels in July and August, the immediate forecast likely offers some relief to Okanagan and southern B.C. communities ravaged by floods last spring.

"At this stage in the season there is no elevated flood risk present in the current snowpack across the province," the report states.

The peak freshet season is due to arrive in watersheds, including the Kettle River through Grand Forks, Mission Creek near Kelowna and the Similkameen River around Princeton, within the next week or two.

The centre offers the caution that usually wet conditions across B.C. in May and June could quickly alter its predictions.

"Weather during the freshet season also plays a key role, and flooding is possible in years with near normal or low snowpack," the report says.

"In areas with low snowpack, key flood risks shift towards heavy precipitation events, either short-duration events or prolonged periods of wet weather."

Heavy rains could extend the flood season in the Rockies and northeast into July, the report says, although it also notes that seasonal forecasts from Environment Canada are currently calling for a period of warmer weather across British Columbia.

The River Forecast Centre will issue another update on the flood risk forecast May 22.

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