Snowfalls on the coast — even though heavy at times — were not enough to tip the scales to normal precipitation levels
B.C.’s January was unusually warm, February was brutally cold and March is threatening to rewrite the record books for drought.
“There has been a lot of huge fluctuation,” said Armel Castellan, a meteorologist for Environment Canada.
Fort St. John has received a minuscule 0.8 per cent of its normal precipitation.
“Just a trace has fallen,” he said. “They normally see 24 millimetres, which isn’t much, but this has been easily the driest March so far on record. It’s the same with Fort Nelson at only 1.1 per cent.”
Snowfalls on the coast — even though heavy at times — were not enough to tip the scales to normal through February and nothing changed in March.
Comox is decidedly droughty with just 4.4 per cent of its normal rainfall, and Victoria just 14.4 per cent.
“We are talking about a tiny amount of rain and snow in March for pretty much the entire province, the exception being Williams Lake,” he said.
“The pattern is very extreme, we’ve had a lot of high pressure systems with very little influence from the Pacific Ocean, which is where we get all of the moisture for our precipitation,” he explained.
Kelowna had the fourth driest winter season on record with about 59 per cent of normal precipitation. Abbotsford, Penticton and Vernon were also drier than normal, while the northeast was relatively wet.
“When mid-February hit, we really turned a corner into a period of very little precipitation, and of course it got very cold,” said Castellan. “It is pretty puzzling to see this kind of extreme variation, from a warm December and January to very, very cold conditions and then extremely dry conditions.”
The pattern will break — at least temporarily — after the weekend with light rain predicted for Monday and Tuesday on the coast and southeastern B.C. However, bone-dry Kelowna is unlikely to see any rain.
“That will help bring some moisture in the form of flurries to the north central region and the southeast,” he said. “Early April should bring a more active pattern of rain and sun.”
The three-month outlook suggests spring will be a few degrees warmer than normal across most of B.C., but precipitation forecasts are unreliable beyond five to seven days.
Snowpacks across the province are normal to below normal, which lessens the likelihood of flooding. Nineteen of the 24 major snowpacks monitored by the Rivers Forecast Centre were at least 10 per cent below normal in February.
A droughty March will have done nothing to increase the snowpack.
“The freshet will come no matter what when the snow melts, and the stars can still align for flooding,” said Castellan. “High snowpacks and warm weather last May brought the freshet two-and-a-half weeks early on the Fraser River into historic values.”
A warm spring could spell trouble for our forests. Four of B.C.’s worst fire seasons have come in the past eight years.
Last week, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced a $101-million budget for firefighting and prevention, up from $64 million last year.
The province will undertake a prescribed burning program and employ new early detection technology, he said.
It’s too early to characterize the severity of the upcoming fire season, according to a ministry spokesperson.
“The severity of the wildfire season will be highly dependent on local, short-range weather patterns such as timing and amount of rainfall, length of drying periods, thunderstorms and wind events.”
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