Despite a steady deluge of precipitation, the West Kootenay currently sits at only 93 per cent of its average annual snowpack and is down 32 per cent from last year, according to a provincial report.
In the Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, issued in early January by the B.C. Ministry of Forests, it was reported that the region is lagging behind its historical pace at accumulating snow in the alpine areas — the reservoir for fresh water in the warmer months.
But the rest of the province is also sluggish, with the average for all snow measurements across the province for Jan. 1 at 82 per cent of normal.
Although there is still a lot of winter left to come, there are concerns, the bulletin noted, since by early January nearly half of the annual B.C. snow pack typically accumulates.
“There are early concerns for drought extending into the spring and summer with below normal snow throughout many regions,” the report stated in its summary. “With three or more months left for snow accumulation, seasonal snow packs can still change significantly based on weather patterns.”
Over the last eight years the current dip for the West Kootenay is not the most pronounced, with 2017 showing 80 per cent of normal at this same time, and 2018 registering 92 per cent.
Cause and effect
Extended cold, dry weather in November and December in the region limited snow accumulation in the mountains.
The cool, dry weather was a carryover from the significant drought conditions that extended from the summer into the fall throughout the West Kootenay and the province in 2022.
Temperatures in September and October were much warmer than normal with unusually dry conditions persisting.
Two years ago December was very cold for the West Kootenay with temperatures minus eight degrees Celsius below normal and precipitation was generally sparse until the final week of December.
The beginning of January was drier than normal resulting in below seasonal snow accumulation across the region and the province.
The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) shows that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern demonstrated La Niña conditions during the fall of 2022, the bulletin reported.
The occurrence makes it the third La Niña in a row (“triple dip”).
“La Niña occurs when oceanic temperature anomalies along the equatorial Pacific Ocean region are below normal for an extended period,” the bulletin noted. “Historically, La Niña conditions create cooler temperatures for British Columbia and wetter weather in the South Coast and Vancouver Island during the winter months.”
However, the CPC is predicting that La Niña or ENSO- neutral conditions could continue through the remainder of the winter — January through March — with a possible transition to neutral conditions (71 per cent likelihood) in spring.
“Historically, when winter La Niña conditions exist in British Columbia, the April 1 snow pack is often above normal, particularly for the South Coast and Southern Interior,” the bulletin explained. “La Niña conditions that persist into the spring can lead to late-season snow accumulation and delayed snowmelt, which increases the risk for freshet flooding.”
As a result, in the West Kootenay there is a possibility of higher than normal precipitation for January through March.
Source:Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin