‘Significantly elevated drought hazards’ in B.C. due to low snowpack levels

Mount Washington mountain cam
Mount Washington was closed on Feb. 1 for a second day due to the low snowbase.

Low snowpack levels across B.C. have experts eyeing likely droughts in the spring and summer, with the provincial average sitting at 61 per cent of what is normal for this time of year.

Vancouver Island’s February snowpack levels are less than half of the provincial average, sitting at 30 per cent of its normal values.

It also marks a decrease of the snowpack on Vancouver Island from January, where levels were 39 per cent of normal, due to the heavy rainfall melting the snow.

Vancouver Island was one of six regions across the province that saw a decrease in the snowpack from January.

“It’s pretty troubling,” said Aaron Hill, the executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“It’s very menacing for fish. We’re worried about the ability for young salmon to have enough water to get flushed out to the ocean in the summer freshet, and for the young salmon that their rivers and creeks don’t get so low or hot that they die, and then for the adults coming back to spawn in the summer and fall that they’ll have enough water to dig their nests in for their eggs to survive.”

Watershed experts say the province needs to step up with aggressive, proactive drought planning now to match the scale of the building crisis.

RELATED: B.C.’s dismal snow season is a glimpse of the future, says ski resort researcher

A cool and wet spring and summer would take the sting of the drought out both for the fish and potential fire season.

“It is looking particularly stacked for a more active wildfire seasons but the amount of rain in June will really determine what the wildfire season will look like,” said Kimberly Kelly, fire information officer at Coastal Fire Centre.

The melting snow pack means alpine fire fuels will be dried out sooner and exposed for longer to lightning strikes or human caused fires, something that’s a big issue on Vancouver Island.

“On Vancouver Island in 2023, 56 per cent of our wildfires were actually human caused,” said Kelly. “Knowing that our fuels will be exposed and potential to ignition, the prevention of human caused wildfire, is really what’s going to have the most impactful determining factor on our wildfire season this year.”

RELATED: ‘Hugely concerning’: Warm weather sets B.C. up for continued drought, says meteorologist

Only two regions have more snow in February 2024 compared to the same month in 2023. These regions are North Thompson and Stikine.

Vancouver Island is 45 per cent lower than it was in February 2023, marking the second largest decrease in the province behind Skagit, which is 50 per cent lower than normal.

“Low snowpack and seasonal runoff forecasts combined with warm seasonal weather forecasts and lingering impacts from previous drought are creating significantly elevated drought hazards for this upcoming spring and summer,” B.C.’s Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin for Feb. 1 says.

“There are still two to three months left in the snow season. While conditions may change slightly over this period, current trends in low snowpack are expected to persist.”

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham
Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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