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Weird weather contributing to likelihood of drought in the Thompson-Okanagan

Snowpack melt is coming to an early end as low and middle snowpacks failed to materialize, increasing the odds of water shortages in the Thompson - Okanagan this summer.

Kamloops and Okanagan residents are hearing the word “drought” with increasing frequency these days as summer approaches and the spring months go by with little precipitation.

River Forecast Centre hydrologist Ashlee Jollymore says the Thompson and Okanagan high elevation snowpacks were at normal or above normal levels as of April 1, but what wasn’t typical is the anecdotal information about lower elevation snowpacks.

Jollymore says most of the River Forecast Centre’s snowpack monitoring is done above 1,500 metres.

“While we were seeing typical snowpack levels above 1500 m, we began receiving a lot of reports from people in the region of lower than normal mid to low elevation snowpacks. We were also hearing of creeks running over the winter,” she says.

Jollymore says it’s not the quantitative and scientific data that forecasters can use to monitor but called the observations “interesting” as to how winter actually played out in the Thompson-Okanagan, and how much snow there was to melt.

She said this year’s melt isn’t typical of what was supposed to occur in a La Niña year.

“It was an interesting pattern, with low elevation rain rather than snow. It really depends on how precipitation falls, with the temperature being a major factor. A La Niña year is supposed to be wetter and colder,” she says.

Jollymore says the bigger story so far this spring has been the lack of moisture so far.

“Typically at this time of year we see Okanagan Lake peaking due to snowmelt, as well as rainfall. The May-June rains haven’t materialized yet while the snowmelt has been probably two weeks early and is starting to wane, as we run out of the snow that drives that inflow,” she says.

Jollymore is hopeful June will bring a normal return to precipitation levels, but even if that happens the region will be in a precipitation deficit due to the lack of moisture over the past three months.

Near-term, the situation isn’t hopeful, with Environment Canada forecasting a return to hot, dry conditions to start the first week of June.

South of the border, the Washington State Department of Ecology recently issued a drought advisory for most of Washington State, following the fourth driest March and April since 1895.

At least one water purveyor won’t be affected by the lack of mid and lower elevation melt this year. At Kelowna’s  Black Mountain Irrigation District, manager Bob Harasko says the district has 12 dams and 7 reservoirs rising in elevation as high as 5,900 feet.

“We tap into the upper headwaters of Mission Creek, which provides a more stable supply than many other districts. All our reservoirs are full. We’re still using creek water and likely won’t be using storage until late June,” Harasko says.

In spite of a regional drought in the making due to a lack of rain, Harasko says the irrigation district has one of the stronger water supplies around. The district supplies water for irrigation of 5,000 acres and water needs of 29,000 people.

“Our high elevation water sources didn’t suffer this winter. We’re one of the lucky ones. The old-timers built this system right,” he says.

Harasko says the water district will be monitoring the situation throughout the summer and will follow drought levels in unison with the rest of the region’s water purveyors, whether the district is suffering from water shortages or not.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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