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article imageBritish Columbia may be facing wildfires and drought this summer

By Karen Graham     May 12, 2016 in Environment
Vancouver - The snowpack in British Columbia started melting early this year and because of the generally warm and dry conditions we had in April, the melting was quick.
Based on information from the latest Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, many regions of BC have snow levels that are less than half the normal for this time of year.
The average snowpack level for the province was 53 percent of average on May 1, 2016. This average saw a decline of 38 percent from the April 1st. value of 91 percent. Of the 183 snowpack measurements made on May 1, 33 stations, or 13 percent saw record low levels. Low and mid-elevation snows are largely gone now, with snow remaining only at the higher elevations.
Viewing Vancouver Island s snowpack on April 17  2016  from a DeHavilland Beaver Seaplane. You can s...
Viewing Vancouver Island's snowpack on April 17, 2016, from a DeHavilland Beaver Seaplane. You can see the melt has started.
Jim Howard
"Basically, the north just didn't get a lot of snow this year," said hydrologist Tobi Gardner of the River Forecast Center, according to CBC News. "Province-wide, it's been a warm winter and a very warm spring ... that really chewed away at the snowpack through April."
Peak streamflow ahead of schedule for province
Gardner says that overall, May 1 snow conditions were more typical of June, especially with the snow melt occurring three to four weeks earlier than usual. And of course, the rapid snow melt also led to higher than normal streamflow in most of BC's rivers. This means that any snow melt that should have occurred later has already passed through the watersheds.
But in rivers with limited snowmelt contribution to streamflow, such as on Vancouver Island, the early melt and dry spring has led to below normal streamflow as of the early part of May. Additionally, in many rivers in Northeastern BC, the streamflow has already dropped to below normal for May, due to the early snowmelt. Not a good sign. Basically, everything is running three to four weeks ahead of normal.
Will B.C. experience drought conditions?
Several things need to happen to make for a "normal" weather pattern over the next few months. In the first place, May and June are typically rainier months in BC's interior, and normal or heavy rainfall could still happen, making for a somewhat normal summer.
Just remember, though, that mother nature has really mixed things up this year, with Ottawa setting new official snowfall records. And already this year, BC has had more than 90 wildfires this season, and it started early. Just keep in mind that with many communities dependent on high mountain reservoirs for their drinking water, the timing and the quantity of the snowmelt is important.
The ongoing retreat of Canada s glaciers will have significant effects on sea level rise  hydropower...
The ongoing retreat of Canada's glaciers will have significant effects on sea level rise, hydropower production, freshwater availability, and river ecosystems. Weather patterns greatly influence the speed at which the ice melts. Installing weather stations on these glaciers and simultaneously measuring melt rates and atmospheric conditions will allow us to better understand the main causes of glacier melt today.
University of British Columbia
"If the snow melts much earlier than usual, B.C. could face drought later on in the year," said Hans Schreier, a land, and water systems professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), reports the National Observer.
“If you look at the Sunshine Coast, they have a very small reservoir very high up in the mountains that relies exclusively on snow," he explained. "But if you don’t have much snow or the snow melts early you’re not going to have a lot of water later on in the summer and spring.”
Basically, the early snowmelt shouldn't alarm people, says the professor, but if the warmer than usual temperatures continue, then snow in the higher elevations will melt, and that could lead to a number of problems later in the summer.
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