Lots of snow in Okanagan’s hills now

Two recent dumps of snow have brought the snowpack around the Okanagan above normal for this time of year.

Already, there’s an above-average snowpack in the Mission Creek watershed high above Kelowna, and there’s still half the season’s accumulation of snow to come.

The Mission Creek snowcourse, which is at 1,780 metres of elevation, was 12 per cent above normal (240 mm) when it was measured Jan. 1, and there’s been a sharp spike in it since then, with heavy snowfalls, so it’s now (280 mm) well above normal—although nowhere near the record high for this point in the year.

Across the lake, the automated snow pillow near the old Brenda Mines site was at 82 per cent of normal for the Jan. 1 measurement, but it has also spiked following that and is closer to normal now.

Overall, the Okanagan-Kettle was 99 per cent of normal for the Jan. 1 measurement. Crews will head out into the wilderness to take measurements, at the beginning of each month, for the next six months or so, until all the snow has fallen and melted.

This reporting helps water utility managers and farmers make plans for the coming summer, depending on the amount of water that can be stored in upland reservoirs, along with Okanagan Lake, for the hot and dry summer growing season.

It is also the basis for decisions made by provincial government staff on how much water to release from the Okanagan Basin to provide space in the valley-bottom lakes for spring runoff, without releasing so much that there’s not enough for residents’ water needs through the upcoming summer.

It’s a delicate balancing act, made even more complex by consideration of the needs of aquatic species, such as fish like kokanee who currently have eggs incubating along the lake’s shorelines, and which need to remain under water to be viable when spring comes and it’s time for them to become tiny fish.

So far this winter, despite variable weather condition, the B.C. River Forecast Centre reports that snow conditions are near normal overall for this time of year, with wetter weather in the southwest part of the province, and below normal precipitation in the north.

The three-month forecast is for normal conditions in the Okanagan.