Photo from an automated snowpack recording station. BC Gov’t.

Photo from an automated snowpack recording station. BC Gov’t.

West Kootenay snowpack nearing record levels

High snowpack can mean a greater risk of flooding in spring, say forecasters

The people who monitor snowpack in the mountains are seeing some eye-popping numbers in the Kootenays this year.

They say a monitoring station near Nelson is showing above-normal snowpack — and that was before all the snow we’ve received since New Year’s.

“On Jan. 1, the West Kootenay snowpack was 111 per cent of normal, which means it’s 11 per cent above normal,” says Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with B.C.’s River Forecast Centre, which monitors river levels and flooding in the spring. “So far, since then, we’ve seen a 10 to 15 per cent increase. Our station in Redfish Creek has gone from 110 per cent to tracking at 124 per cent.”

Boyd says the 18-year-old station is now tracking some of the highest numbers it’s ever recorded.

It’s not the only station to be registering high numbers. Overall the West Kootenay snowpack is 136 per cent of normal, says the Centre’s January report.

“Another station in the West Kootenay is Barnes Creek, it goes back to 1993,” says Boyd. “It has the second-highest ever snowpack recorded, just below 1997, which was a very high year. And that’s consistent for almost the whole southern Interior.”

Several storm systems have impacted B.C. over the past two to three weeks, with heavy precipitation falling across most regions.

Warm spell irrelevant

Even the warming the West Kootenay has seen in the last week — with rain falling on several days — will have little impact on the overall numbers.

“I think it primarily is related to lower-elevation snow,” says Boyd. “Although the temperatures in the valleys are warmer, where the real snow is— in the higher elevations— even if it does rain a day or two, or get to 3 or 4 degrees, the temperature of the snowpack alone just absorbs the rain and freezes it.

“It’s not until we get into the 14 to 18 degree-range that it really starts to rapidly melt in the higher elevations.”

Hitting record snowpack levels seems almost certain. While a lot of snow has fallen, there’s still plenty to come.

“At this time of year, we have about 60 per cent of the snow fall by this date,” says Boyd. “So we have about 40 per cent of the snow accumulation season to come, on average.”

Snow accumulation can be over by April, or even continue until late May in unusual years, Boyd notes.

Provincial levels

Overall, the provincial average from all automated snow weather stations currently sits at 100 per cent of average, up from 89 per cent on Jan. 1, the Forecast Centre says. Most regions experienced a five to 30 per cent increase in the percentage of average values over the past two weeks.

Current percentage of average values range from a low of 59 per cent on Vancouver Island to a high of 136 per cent in the West Kootenay. Many regions, including the Upper Fraser – East, Upper Fraser – West, North Thompson, South Thompson and Okanagan, are beginning to nudge into high snow pack conditions (greater than 120 per cent).

In the western coastal areas of the province, snow pack remains below average.

Preparation key

Snowpack monitoring and river forecast allows emergency officials — and citizens — to prepare for the possibility of flooding in the spring.

“It’s about being prepared for the upcoming freshet,” Boyd adds. “We’re certainly trending up into the higher, well-above normal for the Kootenay. It’s always good to be prepared, that’s why we do the measurements early, so people aren’t learning about the flood risk in May.

SEE: RDKB urges caution when reading into early snowpack reports

“One of the ingredients [for flood risk] is a high snowpack, and we can guarantee as of this moment, the Kootenays is very high.”

Many factors can affect that risk, from the speed of the melt to rainfall during the freshet. But Boyd says whatever happens, it’s best to be prepared.

And we will get a better sense of the situation in early February, when the next comprehensive snowpack report comes out.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

The snowpack chart for Redfish Creek station shows snow levels well above 2018, which saw flooding in parts of the West Kootenay and Boundary regions. BC Gov’t.

The snowpack chart for Redfish Creek station shows snow levels well above 2018, which saw flooding in parts of the West Kootenay and Boundary regions. BC Gov’t.

Just Posted

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

Laird Creek watershed logging road. Photo: Renee Hayes.
COLUMN: Healthy watersheds support resilient communities

Kendra Norwood writes about nature-based planning

Glacier Gymnastics head coach Sandra Long says she doesn’t understand why her sport is currently shut down while others are allowed to operate. Photo: Tyler Harper
‘It is bewildering’: Nelson sports leaders call out provincial shut down

Indoor group classes for activities such as gymnastics and dance are on hold

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
UPDATE: Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

This update includes the present condition of the victim and a comment from the police department

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Interior Health said its new toll-free line will help people connect to health-care services. (File)
Interior Health expands toll-free line to improve access to community care

By calling1-800-707-8550, people can be connected to several health-care services

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Most Read