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FLOOD WATCH 2017: UPDATE: Wind prompts new warning from emergency officials

Docks across the Central Okanagan are under water as Okanagan Lake continues to rise to record-breaking numbers.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Rose Sexsmith
May 23, 2017 - 9:52 PM

KELOWNA – Local officials are sounding one more warning to property owners on Okanagan Lake as heavy winds predicted for tonight have hit: It's too late to sandbag, consider your own safety.

Some local shores have already been hard hit by waves from high winds and in a statement at 9:38 p.m., the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre issued what it called a 'severe wave action warning' for shoreline property owners on all Central Okanagan lakes.

"A storm surge phenomenon, created by high winds pushing a high volume of water in one direction, in addition to wave action on top of the surge, pose a serious threat to property and erosion of shoreline for unprotected areas," officials said in the release. "With wind gusts of up to 70 kilometres per hour possible tonight, it’s too late to begin sandbagging efforts. Property owners should take personal safety precautions if flood protection measures are compromised."

By noon today, Okanagan Lake rose another four centimetres and with a prediction of heavy wind tonight, those living along the lake and waterways can expect their flood barriers to be tested.

With the forecast calling for winds of up to 70 km/h after 7 p.m. tonight, May 23, and early tomorrow morning, wind-driven wave action could test waterfront flood protection measures, Central Okanagan Emergency Operations says in a media release.

Matt McDonald of Environment Canada says high temperatures over the past three days have "turned the taps on" and accelerated the snow melt however cooler temperatures are on the way. 

The Okanagan can expect between five and 10 mm of rain overnight, and there is a chance of some thundershowers as well. 

Temperatures are expected to climb back up to the low 30s by the middle of next week. 

David Campbell of the River Forecasting Centre says 80 to 90 per cent of snow is still in the mountains.

"We’ve only started to melt that snow," he says. 

Bryan Simonds of Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations says the lake is rising an average of three cm a day, and they are only able to release 1.5 cm per day at the Penticton dam.

"We have the ability to make some adjustments," he says. "We don’t have total contol of the lake.'

Simonds says gates on Skaha Lake and Vaseux Lake are fully open, and will stay open until well into the summer.

What we are seeing come into (Okanagan Lake) every day is three times what we are able to physically let out," he says. "It’s not like river flooding. Even when flows slow, the lake will continue to rise until it equalizes.We are going to be high for ... some time to come into the summer.

Since yesterday morning, Okanagan Lake rose to 342.91 metres, surpassing the 1990 flood level of 342.87 metres. It could reach 343 metres before the thaw is complete.

“The warmer than normal temperatures through today have resulted in higher levels and flows in area creeks and streams, further reducing the snowpack in the higher elevations. Waterfront property owners who haven’t taken measures to protect their structures and properties from flooding should do so," Emergency Operations officials say. “Many lakefront properties at risk of flooding have not adequately protected the shoreline to 343.6 metres, which is the projected high lake level of 343 metres plus a buffer for wave action.”

Executive director of Emergency Management says 1.7 million sand bags have already been shipped, and another million are still available.

A complete list of Flood FAQs is available at the Emergency Operations website, including instructions on how to measure for flood levels and build barriers.

— This story was updated at 4 p.m. May 23 with information from Environment Canada, the River Forecasting Centre and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.

— This story was updated at 9:51 p.m. to include new information from the Emergency Operations Centre. 


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