Persistent large snowpack raises Southern Interior spring flood risk

Flooding on Mill Creek in Kelowna on Monday, May 8, 2017.

Potential for spring flooding in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Nicola remains elevated as latest readings show the snowpack is well above normal for the second straight month.

"High snow packs in the South Interior including the Skagit, Similkameen and Okanagan, maybe an early indication of increased seasonal flood risk for the upcoming freshet season,” writes the B.C. River Forest Centre in its monthly snow survey released today, Feb. 7.

The centre says unsettled weather in January and early February brought lots of snow to the southwestern parts of the province, boosting the snowpack in the Okanagan to 131 per cent of normal, up from 123 per cent last month.

Snowpack in the Similkameen region was actually down to 135 per cent of normal from 141 last month, but is still considered well above normal and represents a flood risk should it continue, the centre writes.

"Seasonal volume runoff forecasts are…well above-normal for areas of the South Interior, including the Okanagan, Similkameen and Nicola (regions).”

Currently both the North and South Thompson Rivers are showing normal snowpack levels, according to the survey.

While two-thirds of the annual snowpack has usually fallen by now, the centre says larger-than-normal snowfall could continue into April or May.

"Given the current seasonal weather forecasts, and ocean temperature trends, on-going above average snow accumulation appears to be a probable scenario over the remaining period of the snow accumulation season,” the centre writes.

The culprit behind the increased snowfall is La Niña, which is known for bringing above-average snowfall to B.C. and the Pacific Northwest. La Niña is linked to cooler-than-normal water temperatures along the equator in the Pacific Ocean.

Late snow accumulation was one of the hallmarks of the disasterous 2017 flood season, compounded by an early warm start to spring which melted snow packs quickly, causing Okanagan Lake to blow past its previous highwater mark and set a new record lake level.

Read more stories about last spring’s flooding.

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