Snowpack looks promising

After two years of devastating floods in the spring, the snowpack numbers for both the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys are well below normal. 

As of Feb. 1, the Okanagan snow basin was at 86 per cent of normal, and the Similkameen was at 74 per cent. 

"And just in comparison to last year, Okanagan was at 131 per cent of normal on Feb. 1 and the Similkameen was 135 per cent of normal," said Jonathan Boyd, hydrologist with the BC River Forecast Centre. "At this time last year, we knew we were in a state of flood alert." 

If things continue as they are, the valleys aren't looking at a high risk of flooding this spring. February has already been a dry month in terms of precipitation, thanks to an Arctic weather system, and the longer the areas go without snow, the better for the flood risk. Usually, the region sees just under two thirds of its snowfall by this time.

But it's not time for celebration just yet. Boyd cautioned that conditions can change quickly, and unexpected late-season snow or rains can tip the balance.

"That's what happened two years ago. The Okanagan snowpack was actually even less than it is right now, and we got heavy rain in March and April, and that led to flooding on Okanagan Lake," Boyd explained. 

The lower snowpack is a double-edged sword.

"The positive of a lower snowpack is the risk of flooding is lower. The negative of a lower snowpack is the risk of water supply later on in the summer due to drought conditions increases," Boyd said. 

He also explained that despite two years of excessive water, that doesn't mean the system can't handle more water this year. 

"Okanagan Lake can be affected year over year, but I don't think the level got high enough last year that last year will influence this year," he said. "The bigger influence will be the snowpack. The snowpack really decides on the volume of water forecasts we have."

And for now, that forecast is promising. 

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