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Porcupine River breakup approaches. Old Crow prepares for flooding

Plans and materials in place as "dynamic breakup" expected in snow-packed region
Rising waters run over the road that runs between the Porcupine River and the airport in Old Crow on May 15, 2023. More high water is expected in the Old Crow area this year. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News Files)

A high-water advisory for the Porcupine River at Old Crow was issued May 13. The advisory is the most moderate of the territorial government’s flood advisories with flood watches and flood warnings reserved for more serious conditions.

The current conditions being reported by the territorial government are minimal snowmelt and water-level changes at Old Crow but more significant changes have been observed over the weekend at the headwaters of the Porcupine River basin. Water levels are expected to rapidly rise in the headwaters.

A warming trend is also being observed in the area. Snowmelt runoff is expected to continue in the headwaters. The government is forecasting ice movement set to begin around the middle of this week and river breakup at Old Crow expected in four to eight days as per the May 13 high water advisory. 

Given the potential for continued rapidly rising water levels in the headwaters and minimal deterioration of the ice cover both at and downstream of Old Crow, a dynamic breakup is currently anticipated with flooding impacts possible. These impacts could range from minor to major depending on whether ice jams form downstream of Old Crow.

This high water advisory will be upgraded to a flood watch when the ice breakup front progresses beyond the headwaters of the Porcupine River basin, as informed by satellite imagery and river ice monitoring flights.

The snow survey for the start of May puts the snow pack for the Old Crow area at well above normal. The Porcupine River basin’s snow pack was sitting at 182 per cent of the historical median, a record for the basin.

Preparations are well underway for possible flooding in the northern community. Information circulated by the territorial government and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) states that the VGFN’s goal is to keep as many of its citizens safely in Old Crow as possible in the event of flooding. It states that the First Nation has been working with the territorial and federal governments to this end, laying a variety of plans and preparations as of May 8. 

Actions include the removal of snow from Old Crow to reduce local flood risk during the melt. Tiger dams, large water-filled flood barriers, are being procured; if flooding occurs, then the dams will be deployed to protect critical infrastructure in the area.  

Flood monitoring and evacuation planning are ongoing, as is outreach work with Old Crow residents. 

The plan is to use the school in Old Crow as a reception centre and group lodging should people have to leave their homes and don’t have anywhere else to go, such as a relative on higher ground. The territorial government’s emergency support services is supporting the work.

Additionally, helicopter fuel has been pre-staged in Old Crow and the Old Crow solar-power project has been shut down. 

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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