While the recent snowfalls have returned the area to looking like something of a winter wonderland, in most people’s estimation this winter probably seems to be a very light year so far in terms of snow accumulation. Certainly skiers at local ski hills will probably be the first to declare that the season has been sub-standard from the perspective of snow cover on their favourite runs.
However, local municipalities and utility companies have to take much more into consideration than just the esthetics of the season when considering the snowpack levels in the surrounding mountains.
“I’ve been in contact with BC Hydro and they’ve reported the snowpack is only slightly below average for this time of year,” said Gord DeRosa, Trail city councillor. “My own opinion is that we’ll probably get the same amount of precipitation. Maybe not as snow but as rain in the spring.”
The difference between what people see in cities, towns, and ski resorts and the information supplied to utility companies and municipalities is where the measurements are taken by the River Forecast Centre (RFC), an arm of the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations that is responsible for monitoring snow accumulation and stream levels in the province.
RFC maintains unmanned monitoring stations at key locations in watersheds around the province at high elevations where precipitation throughout the colder months tends to accumulate as snowpack. In addition, manual snow surveys are taken eight times a year between January and June to verify the accuracy of the monitoring stations.
Of course considerations of snow accumulation and runoff in the spring freshet tends to affect more than just the amount of drinking water available to communities, it also has a bearing on the production of the majority of the electricity in the province.
“We look at snow across the province,” said Sabrina Locicero, stakeholder engagement advisor with community relations for BC Hydro. “We produce a monthly water supply forecast and balance it across our system to ensure we can provide reliable power generation for our customers.”
BC Hydro employs a team of experts dealing in a variety of climate related subjects to monitor the water supply system in the province and how if affects reservoir levels.
The utility company uses that information to determine their ability to generate power and inform the public if conditions may require people to conserve electricity in times of low water and high electricity draw, such as in the dry, hot summer months when people are more likely to be running air conditioning systems.
“The Kootenay Columbia region appears near normal but slightly below average at this point and the one area in the province that currently has low snowpack is the Coastal region,” said Locicero. “We’ll look at the reports again in February. It’s a continuous process and the amounts can be quite variable throughout the year.”