First the good news. British Columbia is currently free of any flood warnings or advisories as issued by the provincial River Forecast Centre, which monitors and models stream flow.
But as temperatures rise with the coming of spring Monday, so do fears of spring flooding.
A national survey by First Onsite Property Restoration found that 73 per cent of British Columbians are concerned about spring flooding, the highest figure across Canada. This fear comes after the catastrophes of 2021, when three atmospheric rivers caused floods across Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Valley and the Southern Interior between Nov. 13 and Dec. 2.
These floods were responsible for Canada’s 8th-worst natural disaster as measured by insurance payouts and directly impacted hundreds of thousands of people, and the entire province indirectly. They have fuelled a mindset that climate change will lead to more severe flooding in the future.
British Columbians will get a better sense of what might lie ahead this spring on April 12 when the River Forecast Centre issues snow pack levels for April 1.
Hydrologist Jonathan Boyd said the overall snow pack level for the province is near normal, having jumped from 79 per cent of normal accumulation to 94 per cent between Feb. 1 to March 1. He does not foresee large changes ahead.
“I don’t see anywhere that has been dramatically high so far this month and at least for the next seven days, I don’t see any increases in the snow pack.”
But if 2023 shapes up to be a normal year when it comes to the snow pack levels for the province as a whole, not all parts can relax.
Watersheds with higher-than-normal snow pack levels and a history of past flooding are more susceptible to spring flooding, Boyd said. They include the Cache Creek and Bonaparte rivers, the Nicola River, Mission Creek in the Okanagan, and rivers in the Grand Forks region. Snow pack levels are also above seasonal norms around Vanderhoof and parts of the Cariboo including Quesnel and Williams Lake.
“If the snow-pack is above normal in some areas and at near-normal in others, the likelihood that there is going to be flooding somewhere in the province,” he said. “It’s just a matter of where it is going to be. Season by season, it always happens somewhere.”
If those regions in the provincial Interior with above-normal snow pack levels get seven to 10 days of really hot weather in late April, followed by really heavy rain, they will have a risk of significant flooding, Body said.
On the other hand, 2023 is a La Nina year, which means cooler temperatures in the spring, which means that the snow melt would be more gradual, Boyd added.
Measurements made at Hope show the snow pack level for the Lower Fraser watershed feeding into the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland — home to half of the provincial population — at normal seasonal levels.
“It’s definitely not high on the risk (radar) this year compared to some other years, but just because it is not extremely high, it does not mean that the weather conditions couldn’t result in high flows,” Boyd said.
It also does not mean residents can rest easy. Boyd said one of the most important aspects of flood preparation is just knowing whether one lives in a flood plain or near a river or creek, whose banks might erode quickly.
It is also important to prepare an home emergency plan and a grab-and-go bag with important documents and medicine when forced to leave on short notice, according to the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness’s Flood Preparedness Guide available at preparedbc.ca/floods.
That list also includes other recommendations, such as clearing debris from gutters and downspouts, staying clear of fast-flowing rivers, and staying off flooded streets. Water can be deeper than it appears and levels can rise very quickly, it reads.
The ministry also encourages people protect their homes and financial security by buying home, flood and fire insurance and recommends they sign up for emergency alert systems and follow the directions of their First Nation or local authority.
Jim Mandeville, First Onsite Property Restoration’s senior vice president responsible for managing large losses, has seen the devastating effects of flooding first-hand, having responded to major flooding events across North America for years. He wants residents to develop a greater awareness of the risks that lie ahead.
“The increased occurrence of natural flooding due to weather events is a constant driver for homeowners, businesses and communities to be more resilient and better prepared for tomorrow,” he said.