Flooding above Okanagan Lake. (Black Press Media file)

Increased snowpack, lots of rain boost B.C. flooding risk

Across the province, snowpacks are sitting at an average of 119 per cent of normal level

A very cold February with plenty of rain and snow throughout much of B.C. has led to an above average snowpack that’s keeping flood watchers on alert as temperatures warm up.

“One of the key things we’re seeing this year is the fairly rapid accumulation of snow in a number of pretty big snow events through the winter,” said Dave Campbell, the head of the BC River Forecast Centre.

Across the province, snowpacks are sitting at an average of 119 per cent of normal levels, according to the centre’s March 1 survey.

However, areas in the southern half of the province, including the Okanagan and Kootenays, have seen snowpacks estimated to be 135 per cent and 120 per cent of normal, respectively.

The Fraser River basin as a whole is about 110 per cent of normal.

“For us generally when we get to this time of year, 120 per cent of normal snowpack is where we start to get concerned about increased risk,” Campbell said.

Unprecedented flooding caused considerable damage across the Okanagan last year, destroying homes, creeks and lake foreshore. Cleanup is still continuing in many communities and restoration projects are part of the estimated $10.7-million recovery plan, which is 80 per cent funded by Emergency Management BC.

READ MORE: Police identify missing senior, man now presumed dead after landslide

A report released Wednesday by the provincial government made 66 recommendations to improve flood response, including hiring more staff at flooding response centres.

Another government evaluation, expected to be made public on April 30, is in the works to determine if areas in the Interior that are not as flood-prone will see a higher risk because of last summer’s wildfire conditions.

Areas lose their ability to soak up water once the soil burns, Campbell said, and fewer trees means less cover to handle the higher snow accumulation.

“Particularly for a heavy rainstorm that comes through, it can lead to much more rapid runoff of that water increase,” he added.

READ MORE: Emergency Management B.C. needs better response, Premier John Horgan says

READ MORE: No way to prevent 2017 spring flooding

People living in areas at high risk of flooding are encouraged to prepare, he said, but realistically the flood season is one of wait-and-see, heavily dependent on the levels of rain.

“That weather piece is very important in terms of whether we actually get any flooding, but certainly the risk is quite elevated this year.”


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