The extended winter across the Okanagan is not translating into a higher than average snowpack at the higher elevations. -Image Credit: Contributed

Snowpack coming up short

Another winter of unusual weather conditions not translating into high snowfall levels at higher elevations across the Okanagan.

What it may feel like an extended winter across the Okanagan this year, snowpack surveys at higher elevations are not reaching traditional historic levels.

The latest snow survey reports from the B.C. River Forecast Centre as of March 1 indicate the Okanagan overall is at about 86 per cent of normal snowfall levels.

But at some specific snow monitoring stations, those percentages are much less.

Mission Creek currently sits at 70 per cent of normal snowfall, while Brenda Mine is at 67 per cent.

Across the region, other snowpack survey results include Trout Creek, 61 per cent; McCulloch Lake, 80 per cent; Oyama Lake, 86 per cent; Vaseux Creek, 53 per cent; Islaht Lake, 64 per cent; Adams River, 95 per cent; Celista Mountain, 74 per cent.

Given that collection reservoirs were full last fall, “the numbers aren’t great but you won’t hear too much complaining at this point,” said Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

Speaking at Tuesday’s board meeting in Penticton, Warwick Sears said the type of snow and the rate of spring melt runoff are other factors in how the annual snowfall impacts spring and summer water supply conditions.

She said while all the skiers love to see powder on the slopes, a heavier wet snow is more productive for generating water runoff, as is a slower, gradual spring melting scenario.

“The last two years we have had an early snowmelt which is unusual. If that trend continues, it will present water management challenges,” Warwick Sears said.

She added while the Brenda Mine survey results are down, overall the water supply impact is felt more on the east side rather than the west side of Okanagan Lake.

“Okanagan Lake gets 25 per cent of its water source supply from the Mission Creek watershed which is significant. But it is a highly managed watershed as practically every raindrop has some control structure attached to it,” she said.

According to the BC River Forecast Centre statistics, temperatures were 1 to 4 C below normal through most of B.C. except in the north, where temperatures were slightly above normal.

This season’s snowpack can be considered “upside down,” with higher than normal snowfall occurring at low elevations, but below normal at high elevations.

This was the result of cold than normal temperatures which in several low elevation precipitation events saw snow occurring rather than rain.

“However, seasonally dry conditions have resulted in lower than normal snowpack at high elevations despite the cold conditions. Increased snow at low elevations plays a limited role in seasonal flood risk or water supply into the spring and summer,” stated the report.

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