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Higher-than-normal Okanagan snowpack brings slightly elevated flood risk

A slightly higher than normal snowpack in the Okanagan is putting the region at marginally higher flood risk as the spring melt begins.

However, whether flooding actually materializes will depend on the weather, which can be hard to forecast in the long-range.

The province’s River Forecast Centre found the Okanagan’s snowpack was 109 per cent of normal as of April 1.

Read more:
Risk of spring flooding ‘elevated’ due to above normal snowpacks: B.C. River Forecast Centre

Which, is actually an improvement from a flooding perspective, from where the snowpack was a month earlier.

“On March 1, it was 120 per cent of normal, so just very dry conditions in March improved the flood risk for the region,” noted Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the River Forecast Centre.

Despite the above-normal snowpack, warmer weather that is forecast to melt snow at lower and mid-level elevations in the short term is not expected to lead to any significant flooding.

Click to play video: Helicopter footage shows huge landslide near Bute Inlet on B.C. coast

By Thursday, Global Okanagan meteorologist Peter Quinlan is forecasting that the valley will see the first 20 degree days of the year.

However, that surge in temperature is not expected to melt a significant portion of the region’s snowpack, as it is currently concentrated at higher elevations.

Read more:
Okanagan weather: first 20-degree days of the year ahead

“[We are] definitely going to start to see creeks rise in the Okanagan, especially late this week, into the weekend, but at this point, I’m not expecting anything to be in any sort of flood stage,” Boyd said.

The City of Kelowna is monitoring the flows on Mission and Mill Creeks using data stations that have been installed in recent years, but it is not expecting any extreme flooding.

“This year it is looking like the flows so far are average or below average. I don’t think you will see anything flooding any abnormal areas,” said City of Kelowna utility planning manager Rod MacLean.

Click to play video: Drone video of Trans-Canada Highway flood repair in B.C.

Ultimately, weather conditions will play a major role in whether or not the region sees floodwaters rise.

The worst-case scenario for flooding would be cold temperatures followed by a sudden extreme warmup that melts lots of snow at once, especially if the temperature change is followed by heavy rain.

The continuation of dry conditions and a gradual warm-up would help keep flooding at bay.

However, if conditions remain dry in the Okanagan, the region could be dealing with drought.

“Typically the wettest months for the Okanagan are actually March, April and May, so to not really have much precipitation so far is not a good situation,” Boyd said.

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