Rare May heat wave brings worries for further floods and fires: emergency minister

Sarah De Francesco, left, Albert Huynh, right, and Leanne Opuyes, back left, cool off in the frigid Lynn Creek water in North Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, June 28, 2021. A spell of unseasonably warm weather forecast for British Columbia is raising concerns for further flooding and fires.

A spell of unseasonably warm weather forecast for British Columbia is raising concerns for further flooding and wildfires.

Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma says the heat that’s expected to push into the 30s in many areas will affect the pace of snowmelt, which has already sent river levels over their banks in several parts of central and southeastern B.C.

Dave Campbell, with the BC River Forecast Centre, told a briefing on Monday that above-seasonal temperatures have burned through about a quarter of the province’s snowpack, which is already much faster than normal.

The province’s snow basin map shows snowpack ranging from a low of 47 per cent of normal in the Skagit area to 235 per cent in the Liard region.

It shows snowpack in the Lower Thompson basin is at 171 per cent of the normal level for this time of year, while in the Okanagan it’s at 144 per cent of normal.

However, the bulletin posted Tuesday notes the snowpack has significantly changed since the measurements were taken last week, given the warm weather that’s expected to get hotter in the coming days.

Environment Canada is forecasting the mercury will hit 34 C in Kamloops on Sunday and just one degree cooler in Prince George.

In Fort St. John, where a 28-square-kilometre wildfire is burning nearby, the temperature is expected to hit 32 C on Sunday.

Ma says the unusual heat also elevates the wildfire risk.

There are more than 50 active fires throughout B.C., most of which are small and burning in the central and northern parts of the province.

The Peace River Regional District is maintaining evacuation orders and alerts in response to two fires, while an order was lifted for another blaze to the south.

Ma says the forecast does not call for a heat dome like the one that killed hundreds of people in the summer of 2021, but heat can still be a risk to human health.

The government is able to support communities by opening cooling centres if needed, she told media at the legislature on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023. 

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