Snowpack still melting

Coming out of a mild winter, residents may be surprised to learn that there is still plenty of snow left to melt in the mountains.

By Joni MacFarlane

Editor, Crowsnest Pass Promoter

 

Coming out of a mild winter, residents may be surprised to learn that there is still plenty of snow left to melt in the mountains.

Referring to this year’s snowpack levels, Dr. Uldis Silins, Professor of Forest Hydrology with the University of Alberta, described it as “slightly above average but nothing extreme”.

Snowpack in the southern Rockies has been measured for 17 to 42 years – depending on the station. There are five southern stations set up to measure “snow pillows”, including Allison Pass, Gardiner Creek south of Blairmore, Akamina Pass in Waterton and two in Montana.

An electronic device continually weighs the liquid in the snowpack and transmits the data. From this information, scientists can see how the snowpack is moving and its weight as it melts.

Dr. Silins recalled 2011 when the snowpack recorded significantly higher levels than average followed by a cool spring and storms. That year saw very high water flows with some areas experiencing flooding.

In 2012, the snowpack was moderately high south of Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass area, but a “record breaker” north of the Highway in the Racehorse/Allison Pass area.

“This year, the snowpack is a moving story,” said Dr. Silins.

He explained that the snowpack level should be measured at its maximum, which generally occurs late in the winter at higher elevations. By this time, however, snow of the snow has already started to melt at the lower levels, he said.

What they determined this year was that levels were slightly above average in the Flatheads above the Crowsnest Pass, said Dr. Silins. Levels were above the 75th percentile, or  “well above average but nothing crazy”, south of the community in the Racehorse area.

As late as May 1, there were 2.5 meters of snowpack high up in the York Creek area.

Dr. Silins also stressed that while there is a higher than normal snowpack, that doesn’t necessarily mean a higher risk of flooding.

Snowpack and weather do not always correlate, he added. Above average snowpack with a cool spring might have some high water flows, especially if rainstorms begin.

“The difficulty of predicting is the sequence of what happens and how things line up,” said Dr. Silins.