What a difference a year makes. After a year of much lower than normal snowpacks across the province in 2015, the first snowpack report from the River Forecast Centre for 2016 indicates pretty healthy snow packs, especially in the southern portion of the province.
Part of this is likely due to the dissipation of “the blob”, an area of warm water in the northern Pacific which was present over the past two years. Researchers believe the blob to have been responsible for the warm winters and low snowpack over the past two years.
Seasonal forecasts from Environment Canada are indicating a high likelihood of above normal temperatures across British Columbia over the January to March period.
By early January, nearly half of the annual BC snowpack has typically accumulated. Snow basin indices range from a low of 53% in the Stikine to a high of 143% in the Similkameen. In general, most of the province has near normal snow pack levels (90-110%) for January 1st, 2016. The East Kootenay snowpack is in the 90 to 110 per cent range. The Climate Prediction Centre (CPC) at the U.S. National Weather Service/NOAA is forecasting a high likelihood of El Niño conditions persisting through until late-spring or early summer 2016.
According to the River Forecast Centre, in general, BC experiences warmer than normal winter and early-spring temperatures during strong El Niño events. Precipitation during historic El Niño events has been highly variable, with no strong trends across BC. Snow packs during El Niño events tend to be below normal across BC, however there has been significant historic variability and regional variation to this general trend. The last similarly strong El Niño event occurred over the winter of 1997-1998, and resulted in seasonal snow packs that were modestly below normal (e.g. provincial average of 94% of normal). Extreme low snow packs, such as those observed in southern BC in 2014-15, are not commonly associated with El Niño events. The effects of El Niño tend to be more pronounced during the mid- to late-winter and into spring.