British Columbia

B.C.'s spring snowpack is the lowest on record

British Columbia's extended drought is likely to persist and possibly worsen with much of the province continuing to register below normal snowpack levels.

Relatively dry conditions continued across most of the province through March, report says

train bridge over dry river bed
Extended drought has resulted in extremely low water levels at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers near Prince George, B.C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

British Columbia's snowpack is the lowest it's been at this time of year since records started being kept in 1970, and those conditions could exacerbate a provincewide drought, according to the latest bulletin from the B.C. River Forecast Centre (BCRFC).

As of April 1, the provincial snowpack was 63 per cent of normal, with warming seasonal temperatures slowing snow accumulation. At this time last year, the snowpack measured 88 per cent of normal.

"Low snowpack and seasonal runoff forecasts, combined with warm seasonal weather forecasts and lingering impacts from ongoing drought, are creating significantly elevated drought hazards for this upcoming spring and summer," the snow and water supply report said.

The areas of biggest concern are the Chilcotin, Skeena-Nass, Upper Fraser East and Quesnel regions.

Approximately 95 per cent of the annual snowpack is typically already on the ground at this time of year.

The report said dry conditions continued across most of the province through March, including several locations in the northern and Interior regions of the province that measured near-record low precipitation.

Vancouver Island was the only area that saw a normal amount of precipitation in March, it said.

Increased risk of wildfire

Lori Daniels, a University of B.C. forestry professor and chair of the Centre for Wildfire Coexistence, said the report is pointing to a long, dry fire season ahead.

"We know that we're in a multi-year drought so these are places that already had low precipitation last summer, where we had big fires as a result," said Daniels.

"We went right through the fall with low rainfall, not enough snow through the winter, which means that our forests are already dry and are going to be vulnerable to fire this summer."

A white woman with black hair leans against a tree.
UBC forestry professor Lori Daniels says that the snowpack report points to a long, dry summer ahead. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

BCRFC hydrologist Jonathon Boyd said it is possible the snowpack could increase into May if it is a cold or wet spring, adding that the "silver lining" is that flooding risk is lower for areas that consistently flood.

However, he says it is still possible for sudden or extreme rainfall or persistent heavy rain to cause flooding "especially in smaller- or medium-sized rivers in the Interior."

"We'll see what happens over the next maybe three to four weeks in terms of temperatures," he said during a news conference Wednesday. "Ideally, what we'd like ... is seasonal temperatures with a little bit of precipitation."


Karin Larsen


Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

With files from The Canadian Press