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B.C. snowpack at lowest March 1 levels in 2 decades, 2nd lowest ever

Head of River Forecast Centre says there could be a decrease in flood risk in some areas of B.C.

B.C.’s current snowpack is tied for the second-lowest March 1 levels at 66 per cent — the lowest it’s been in more than 20 years.

Dave Campbell, the head of the River Forecast Centre, said Friday (March 8) the last time snowpack levels were at 66 per cent was in 2001. The historic low was 53 per cent of normal in 1977.

The last update issued Feb. 1 showed snowpack levels at 61 per cent, so the March update marked an improvement from February and January, when the snowpack level was at 56 per cent of normal. But the March figures also continue the trend of low snowpack levels as 12 out of 217 snow measurements set all-time record lows for March 1.

Campbell shared these figures at a media briefing, where Andrew Giles, director of River Forecast and Flood Safety, joined him.

Two possible implications flow from the new figures, Campbell said. The first concerns flooding, the second drought.

“With the lower-than-normal snowpack, we are anticipating a decrease in the seasonal flood risk in most areas of the province,” he said.

“In terms of the low snowpack, the big concern really is around the drought supply,” he said. “We continue to see that increased hazard for for seasonal drought,” he added.

READ MORE: B.C.’s snowpack is 39% below normal levels

An Environment Canada meteorologist told Black Press Media on Feb. 29 that B.C. could be trending away from El Niño conditions, which typically means warmer winter temperatures, but the province is still at a deficit when it comes to precipitation overall.

December through to February brought back some wetter conditions, but the last three months of rain wasn’t enough to put that water back into the ground.

February itself was representative of this broader pattern. Dry conditions dominated across the province for the first three weeks of February, but two storms between Feb. 24-29 brought what the snow bulletin called the “most significant mountain snow accumulation period of the season” to help make up some but not nearly all of the shortfall.

READ MORE: Precipitation still at a deficit as B.C. nears 2024 wildfire season

Campbell broadly echoed Environment Canada’s outlook. He said 80 per cent of the annual snow fall is on the ground right now, adding another one or two months remain in the snow season, before melting starts.

“In terms of the outlook for the year, we continue to see seasonal weather forecasts indicating an increase chance of a warm spring and into the summer,” he said.

While snowpack levels may still change, Campbell said his office does not expect wholesale changes in terms of the snowpack, adding that the next the four to eight weeks will help determine final snowpack levels.

Looking across the province, the regions with snowpack levels below 50 per cent include the South Coast region (40 per cent) just north of Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island (46 per cent). Also below 50 per cent is the Skagit region at 30 per cent.

Regions above 80 per cent and approaching normal include the Northwest (114 per cent), the South Thompson (90 per cent), the Boundary (87 per cent), Stikine (84 per cent) and East Kootenay (81 per cent). The Okanagan (80 per cent) and the Upper Fraser West (79) matched or came close to that threshold.

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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