British Columbia

Sudden warmth across B.C. raises risk of flooding — and drought

With the first warm weather of the year appearing this week, British Columbia's emergency officials and river forecasters are keeping a close eye on water levels.

Emergency officials, river forecasters keeping close eye on water levels, despite low snowpack

Downtown Grand Forks was almost entirely flooded last spring, with most businesses unable to keep the water out. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

With the first warm weather of the year appearing this week, British Columbia's emergency officials and river forecasters are keeping a close eye on water levels.

Last spring saw unprecedented flooding around Grand Forks, B.C., with thousands of people displaced under evacuation orders and many buildings destroyed.

"We're monitoring the river levels on a daily basis as well as the temperatures and precipitation outlooks," said Mark Stephens, who works with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.

"There is a lot of concern in Grand Forks, as we would expect after a flood season like 2018," he told CBC's Daybreak South.

Stephens, interim manager of emergency programs, is working on a flood response plan for the district to better predict and respond to any disasters.  

The Nechako River in Prince George, showing the effects of a drought last year. Dave Campbell, River Forecast Centre says that drought may be a concern down the line. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Low snowpack

Currently, the snowpack in southern B.C. is below normal levels. Boundary Country is sitting at 60 per cent of normal snowpack levels, while the figure for the West Kootenay is 90 per cent.

Though flooding is always a concern in the spring, there are no alarm bells going off yet, according to Dave Campbell, head of the province's River Forecast Centre.

"Things [like the snowpack] are looking pretty normal, or even a little below normal, for this time of year," he told CBC's The Early Edition.

"Nowhere is jumping out with really high snowpack and high risk for seasonal flooding in the way that we had last year."

Drought concerns

On the flip side, melt-off that disappears too fast or too little winter precipitation can lead to drought problems later in the year.

"As we watch over the next couple months how the snow melts down, if it's melting down early, then that could put more pressure later in the summer," he said.

The dry conditions of the last few years and a low snowpack this year are areas of concern to keep an eye on, Campbell said, but it's too early to predict anything for sure yet.

"A warm spell for a week or so is not going to be critical in terms of the flood side or the drought at this point," he said.

As temperatures warm up this week, residents are being warned about potential spring flooding. 6:18

That doesn't mean it's too early to start preparing, said information officer Erick Thompson, who works with the emergency operations centre in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

"What we're asking people to do is really be aware of your property and where you live," Thompson said.

"We're really focusing on emergency preparedness for people who live in this area and making sure they understand the risks."

With files from The Early Edition and Daybreak South

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