December 2013 goes down in the history books as colder and drier than usual, according to Ron Lakeman, weather forecaster for the Southeast Fire Centre.
The first day and night of December started with a large weather system coming into the area from the Pacific, bringing with it significant wet snow and rain that represented almost half of the entire month’s precipitation.
The total precipitation for the month only added up to 42.2 millimetres, or 46 per cent of the normal snow and rainfall for December, and is a mere fraction of the record high from 1996 when there was 195.1 mm that fell in the Kootenays over the same period that year.
Temperature-wise, values were slightly lower than normal for the month, with the lowest seen in the early morning hours of Dec. 7 and 8 when the mercury fell to -17.7 degrees at the Castlegar airport. This represented the first Arctic outbreak, or cold-snap, since January and February of 2011.
Once again, these numbers came no where near breaking the record for a cold December, which was set on the 30th of the month in 1968 when temperatures dipped to -30.6.
Although the recent system that passed through the area brought considerable accumulation of snow over the mountain passes Thursday, Lakeman predicts that temperatures will begin to drop again.
“This recent system was the most significant since the one we saw December 1st,” he said. “But we’ll probably be seeing the high pressure coming back and see drier and cooler conditions with the possibility of nighttime lows around -8 to -10 degrees over the weekend.”
The high-country snowfall has area avalanche forecasters raising warning flags for back-country adventurers in the region, saying that there could be up to 50 centimetres of accumulation in some area that are already covered by weak snow layers.
“We are asking people to be a bit more cautious this year than they were last year,” said Karl Klassen, warning services manager for the Canadian Avalanche Centre, in Revelstoke said in a press release. “Take on smaller slopes that aren’t as complex, slopes that aren’t as steep. The weekend is going to be a real challenging time.”
The avalanche risk in the alpine and treeline zones across the region varied from high to considerable Thursday before the latest system passed through.
Klassen said people venturing out need to check local avalanche and weather conditions if heading into the back-country. They should also carry emergency equipment such as transceivers, probes, and shovels and be properly trained to use them.
“We want to remind people that this year isn’t like last year or the year before,” said Klassen. “You need to be really doing your homework and ensure you are approaching slopes with caution to make sure you don’t trigger one of these weak layers that are hidden from view right now.”