This year is a far cry from last year when it comes to snow. Although it has been milder recently, the Boundary received a great deal of snow in November, December and January, much to the delight of skiing fans and other outdoor enthusiasts.
In fact, according to the B.C. River Forecast Centre, the Boundary’s snow basin is at 114 per cent of normal as of Feb. 1.
Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said that the last week in the Southern Interior has been very mild with daytime highs approaching 8° and 9° C. “That’s a full four to five degrees warmer than normal. That’s quite typical for El Nino,” he said. “It is a record strong El Nino this winter. The way this winter started out, I think a lot of people were wondering where El Nino was. But it’s actually quite textbook the way it’s played out.”
MacDonald said the effects of El Nino are usually not felt until mid-January. “It was actually right on schedule,” he said. “Jan. 15 we saw our first atmospheric river, or as people more commonly refer to it as, the pineapple express. Since then it’s been very mild. Looking at Cranbrook (the closest weather station to Grand Forks) it’s been three degrees warmer over the last 30 days.”
A pineapple express is a strong feed of tropical moisture originating from the vicinity of Hawaii hence the name tropical. MacDonald says it’s a very strong and steady jet stream that sets up between 24 ad 48 hours and delivers copious amounts of rain as well as heat. “So very high freezing levels,” he said.
El Nino is warmer than normal ocean temperatures down in the equitorial Pacific. “When we look at how warm or cold the ocean is near the equator in the Pacific Ocean—this year is much warmer than usual,” said MacDonald. “In fact, it’s the warmest it’s been in the last 65 years since El Nino records first began in 1950.”
MacDonald says that means that B.C. can expect warmer than normal conditions. “As far as precipitation, there’s really not a strong, consistent signal,” he said. “If you look at historically strong El Ninos there are winters when it’s been wetter than normal and there are winters where it’s been dryer than normal. So you can’t say whether it will be dryer or wetter because it’s El Nino but we can say with confidence than El Nino winters are warmer than normal and the spring will most likely be warmer than normal as well.”
MacDonald said El Nino peaked at the end of January and is slowly starting to fizzle. He added there is good consensus from the various climate models that B.C. will enter neutral mode for ocean temperatures.
“If you think of what we can expect in spring, well it’s typically a bit of everything,” he said. “People say, hey is winter over, can I put away my shovel and take off my snow tires? I would say not yet. We’ll be into another warm system this week and we’ll see day time highs of 8° and 9° C. The old saying ‘March comes in like a lion’ is so true. You can expect anything in March, be it heavy rain or heavy snow and an arctic outbreak may not be out of the question.”
Enjoy the mild weather which will most likely continue into spring and summer, says MacDonald. “Weather being what it is, is highly variable.”
MacDonald said with the increased snowpack it doesn’t look like the Boundary will have a repeat of the drought conditions from last year. “Last summer was kind of the perfect storm for a drought,” he said. “We had little to no snow in the alpine and record dry weather in April and May. So we had no snow to melt and no water falling from the sky. This year we already have higher than normal snowpack in the mountains. Inevitably we’re losing some slowly with these warmer temperatures and high freezing levels but as we get into the spring, people next ask the potential flooding.”
MacDonald said there are lots of different factors that come into play before determining the chance of flooding. “I say with confidence I don’t think drought will be a factor this year taking into consideration how well set up we are,” he said.