—— By Nicholas Johansen/Castanet


Record-setting low snowpacks across the province this spring are stoking concerns about yet another summer of drought in B.C.

The BC River Forecast Centre published the latest Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin Thursday, providing a snapshot of the snow conditions across the province as of May 1.

On average, B.C. currently has a snowpack that is 66% of normal, which the River Forecast Centre describes as “extremely low.” This time last year, the provincial average was 91% of normal, and the late summer months saw unprecedented drought conditions.

“We experienced severe drought last year and remain at high risk going into this season,” Minister of Land, Water, and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen said during a press conference Thursday morning.

“This is serious. Looking at the snowpack levels – which are a critical part of British Columbia’s ability to have enough water through spring, summer and right through the fall – are historically low right now. At 66%, that is a significantly low snowpack that we’re dealing with.”

Big drop from last year

Locally, the Okanagan’s snowpack is at 60% of normal, while the Similkameen region is at 54%. The Lower Thompson region’s snowpack is one of the lowest in the province, currently sitting at just 23% of normal.

Local snowpacks are in a far different situation than they were last year. The Okanagan’s snowpack was sitting at 144% of normal at this time last year, while the Lower Thompson was at 171%.

While the province’s snowpack is consistently far lower across much of B.C., the snowpack varies depending largely on elevation.

“In low-to-mid elevations, particularly in plateau terrain in the B.C. Interior, early melt of a shallow snowpack has occurred and many of these areas are now snow-free,” the River Forecast Centre says.

The Brenda Mine snow weather station, located off the Okanagan Connector, recorded snow-free conditions earlier in the season than ever recorded in the station’s 28-year history.

“Higher elevation mountain snowpack has experienced a delay in melt due to cooler temperatures in late April, and some areas experienced additional late-season snow accumulation during recent unsettled weather periods,” the River Forecast Centre says.

But with hot temperatures forecast in the coming days, higher elevation snowmelt is expected to begin in a big way.

Sixteen snow stations across the province are showing record-low snowpacks for May 1 this year, including at Mount Revelstoke and at the Glacier snow station in Rogers Pass. The Glacier snow station has been recording snowpacks for 78 years.

Concerns over drought

Looking towards the future, the River Forecast Centre says there’s a likelihood of warmer spring temperatures in B.C. through May and June, which may accelerate the spring melt of the already low snowpack.

“The current low provincial snowpack (66% of normal), persistence of drought impacts from previous seasons, and the upcoming seasonal weather outlook are all significant factors for province-wide concern for drought this year,” the River Forecast Centre says.

During Thursday’s press conference, Cullen said it’s important for British Columbians to begin thinking about water conservation already.

“Every drop counts,” he said.