While it’s too early to put out any official flood warning messages, the spokesperson for the Yukon emergency measures organization says it’s not too soon to prepare.
“What we are doing right now is working with communities to pre-position sandbags and other materials for flood response and mitigation, if required. We have about 300,000 sandbags in storage right now,” Echo Ross said during a March 10 conference call with the News.
Ross said at the ready there is also poly, which is used in building berms, and super bags, which are larger sandbags.
“So, we’re ready to go for our initial response, but it is too soon to sound the alarm at this point,” Ross said.
The water resources branch of Yukon’s Environment Department has released its March 1 snow survey bulletin and water supply forecast, which is used to predict spring flooding. It comes out three times a year – in March, April and May – to summarize winter meteorological and streamflow conditions for the Yukon, as well as current snow depth and snow water equivalent observations for dozens of locations.
The first snow survey of 2022 comes just half a year after the territory’s last state of emergency was lifted for the Southern Lakes region.
Holly Goulding, senior hydrologist with the water resources branch, who was also on the three-way conference call with the News, said the main takeaway from the March 1 snow survey is that snowpack levels are above to well-above average in most major Yukon watersheds.
Goulding said record snowpack was observed in the central and lower Yukon River basins, including Carmacks and Dawson City regions, and the Pelly River basin.
“These are the highest basin snowpack estimates that we’ve recorded since our records starting back in the 1980s,” Goulding said.
“Essentially, it is across the territory that we have high snowpack and where we have areas that we’ll be watching closely for the development of snowpack, snowmelt [and] breakup conditions leading into the spring period.”
Goulding said the above to well-above average snowpack raises the potential for flooding in the spring because of ice breakup and snowmelt flooding processes – but it is just one of the risk factors.
“While it does increase the risk potential, we will also be watching closely the spring weather and how it unfolds because that’s a critical ingredient,” Goulding said.
Goulding said the weather in the coming months will play a critical role, depending on what the melt period looks like, how quickly temperatures influence the snow melts and any inputs of additional snow or rain.
Ross said the potential for flooding remains unclear, “but the government is prepared and we’re ready to support communities.”
“We are watching the situation very closely, and working with government departments, and our local and federal partners to understand the risks and be prepared,” Ross said.
The Yukon emergency measures organization is holding its first seasonal readiness meeting of the year on March 11 with territorial and federal counterparts in emergency management.
Ross said another meeting will be held after the next survey comes out in April, and at that time there will be more information to share with the public about what the 2022 flood season may look like and what the response from the government will be.
Goulding agreed that it’s too soon to ring any alarms, although it is an “alarming” snowpack given that it is well above average across the territory.
“But we need to watch conditions as they unfold to determine how the how the flood season will play out,” Goulding reiterated.
“We have 26 of 57 stations that have either met or surpassed past records. So, that’s noteworthy.”
In the report, approximately 85 per cent of the annual snowpack has typically built up by early March.
But this time, average snowpack levels for basins in the report ranged from a low of 130 per cent of the median in the Alsek River Basin to 201 per cent in the Central Yukon River Basin around Carmacks.
“We are always watching all the places,” Goulding said.
“Smaller snowpacks can cause flooding given the right conditions, and large-scale packs don’t necessarily result in flooding, given the right conditions, again, so we do watch the whole territory in terms of forecasting.”
When asked about the best-case scenario, Goulding said a gradual progressive melt that does not result in rapid snowmelt at any period throughout the spring season could help limit the potential in these basins.
Goulding said the worst-case scenario is rapid warming that occurs early in the season that could cause severe ice breakup in communities where that is a dominant flooding process.
“As well, a delayed melt, where we have a lot of snow on the ground later in the spring is also problematic, if we then have an infusion of heat, that again, would cause rapid melting,” Goulding said. “In addition to these sort of temperature scenarios, rains widespread or a rain-on-snow event could be a scenario that would result in rapid snowmelt and could cause water levels to rise very rapidly.”
The emergency measures organization has been getting “a lot of questions” from the public about being ready to deal with floods, according to Ross.
Ross said there are some simple steps that people can take around their home and property to help prevent flood damage, and directed Yukoners to check out yukon.ca/floods or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com