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Island snowpacks are 90% higher than normal. Is that good or bad news for us?

Cool, wet spring could bode well for surviving summer droughts, hydrologist says

By Martin Bauman
May 29, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Island snowpacks are 90% higher than normal. Is that good or bad news for us?

Cool, wet spring could bode well for surviving summer droughts, hydrologist says

By Martin Bauman
May 29, 2022
Snowpack on the mainland. Photo: Tyler Olsen / Fraser Valley Current
Snowpack on the mainland. Photo: Tyler Olsen / Fraser Valley Current
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Island snowpacks are 90% higher than normal. Is that good or bad news for us?

Cool, wet spring could bode well for surviving summer droughts, hydrologist says

By Martin Bauman
May 29, 2022
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Island snowpacks are 90% higher than normal. Is that good or bad news for us?
Snowpack on the mainland. Photo: Tyler Olsen / Fraser Valley Current

British Columbia’s historically cold and wet spring could mean increased flood risk for some areas of the province—but, in a twist of fate, it might actually be good news for the Island.

The latest report from BC’s automated snow weather stations found snowpack averages from the Island’s four stations (Strathcona’s Wolf River, Nanaimo’s Jump Creek, Cowichan Lake’s Heather Mountain, and Mount Arrowsmith) were up by 90 percent over the usual long-term median. This rise is a consequence of "delayed snowmelt" and continued "cool and unsettled conditions," BC’s Ministry of Forests says.

That bodes well for staving off potential summer droughts, says Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist with the BC River Forecast Centre.

"It’ll actually benefit by keeping the rivers higher in the summer and early fall," Boyd told Capital Daily, adding that the snowmelt would prove a boon for farmers and fish flows alike.

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The difference between the Island and Interior, where spring snow buildup can cause flood worries, Boyd says, is that our summer heat waves are less extreme and our watersheds are smaller.

"We don’t have large rivers like the Interior," he said, "[and] the bigger river systems are going to be most susceptible to snow melts."

What would a heat dome like last summer’s do to snowpacks?

One prickly problem for forecasters: Our climate crisis has made previously unprecedented weather events seem commonplace. If last summer’s record heat dome was a one-in-1,000-year event, as some climate modellers reported, and November’s atmospheric rivers were once-in-a-lifetime, what does that mean for assessing our new normal? How many of the old rules still apply?

"It would be interesting to have seen what the heat dome did to Vancouver Island if there was snow last year [in June]," Boyd told Capital Daily.

In the upper Fraser River, Lillooet River, and upper Columbia River, snowmelt reached 80 to 100mm per day.

Boyd says the likelihood of that happening on the Island is exceedingly slim, but not impossible.

"I’ve learned to never say never in this position," he said.

‘Nobody listens’: Islanders say relief funding still hasn’t come

Any talk of weather extremes leaves a sour taste with North Cowichan’s Tammy Calverly. The operations manager of Russell Farm Market in Chemainus says she hasn’t seen a dime of the $228 million in federal-provincial support announced in the wake of Nov. 2021’s torrential floods.The farm and market sustained over $500,000 in damages from two floods in two years.

"Nothing’s been done," she told Capital Daily. "Everybody keeps talking about all these thousands of dollars the government has given for flood relief and remediation, and yet this end of the [province] has seen nothing."

Calverly says she’s appealed to BC Green leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau for help after what she’s described as two years of BC NDP inaction.

"It’s all talk," Calverly said, adding she and owner France Bournazel had applied for Disaster Financial Assistance (which refunds 80 percent of damage claims up to a maximum of $300,000), but had only recently heard they were still in the queue, as the province has dealt with an unprecedented backlog of calls for support.

November’s floods generated over 2,200 calls for relief to Emergency Management BC—four times the amount the province normally sees in a year, CBC reported.

For now, Calverly isn’t holding out any hope for provincial assistance.

"Maybe in 10 years, we’ll finally see some money," she said.

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Martin Bauman
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