‘Biggest storm event we’ve had’: Atmospheric rivers trigger fast melt of Island snowpack


Karen Brown planned to spend Tuesday skiing atop Mount Washington, but three atmospheric rivers in a row have melted snow so fast that the resort is closing runs.

So the Ontario woman instead went to see all that melting snow rushing over Campbell River’s Elk Falls.

“That’s why I’m on the Island. I was intending to ski this week. They’ve been losing like ten centimetres a day of snowpack up there and closing runs and lifts, yeah,” said Brown.

“We’re supposed to be skiing. We’re looking at all our snow right down here. It’s coming over the falls now,” said Black Creek resident David Halpin.

Claudia Sommerfeld travelled from Nanaimo to see Elk Falls and said the force of the water felt like thunder.

“All the melting snow coming from the mountains makes it so big. I’ve never seen it like that. When I saw it from up there, I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” said Sommerfeld.

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On Monday alone, BC Hydro recorded 110 mm of rainfall in the North Island watershed.

According to spokesperson Stephen Watson, that’s basically a firehose releasing 1300 cubic metres of water per second into rivers and reservoirs, with a force equivalent to two Olympic-sized swimming pools emptying into it every two seconds.

But Watson said even more water is coming from melting snowpack that the Island needs during the hot, dry summer months.

“The snowmelt is really the issue here, a low mid-elevation snow melt. The freezing level went up to 2600 metres, and it kind of stayed there for a while, so we’ve seen a lot of snowmelt that’s adding on to that rain. So big inflows by far, it’s the biggest storm event we’ve had this fall, winter season,” said Watson.

“Atmospheric rivers aren’t great because they’re subtropical bases, and they bring warm temperatures, so the snowpack was already well below normal. This isn’t helping. It’s around 50 to 60 per cent of normal for this time of year,” said Watson.

That number is expected to melt away further with the arrival of another atmospheric river on Wednesday. However, experts insist there’s still hope, as snowpack typically peaks on the coast in April.

Officials are urging people to stay well back from fast-moving rivers and creeks as the snowmelt and rainfall continue.

READ ALSO: Storms bringing heavy rainfall, possible flooding to Island continues Tuesday

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