‘Moderate’ flood risk after record-setting snow in Penticton

Residents asked to help city crews clear catch basins as the big melt gets underway in the Okanagan

Kurt Hasenkox was knee deep in the white stuff the morning of Jan. 5 as he cleared the sidewalk from in front of OP Office Products on Duncan Avenue West. Over night snow made driving treacherous and more snow was expected throughout the day and into the evening.

Kurt Hasenkox was knee deep in the white stuff the morning of Jan. 5 as he cleared the sidewalk from in front of OP Office Products on Duncan Avenue West. Over night snow made driving treacherous and more snow was expected throughout the day and into the evening.

Now that the final flakes have settled on a record-setting snowfall and warmer weather has arrived, city workers are turning their attention to flood-mitigation measures.

“Crews have been going out and clearing catch basins as they go and as they clear the roads,” said City of Penticton spokeswoman Simone Blais.

“But given the volume, we’re recommending that residents take a peek at their own neighbourhood drains in the next day or so just to make sure it’s clear, and that will make a big difference in terms of allowing the water to get into the storm sewer system.”

Blais described the risk of localized flooding due to melting snow as “moderate,” but said the threat has eased with daytime high temperatures forecast to hit 5 C on Wednesday then barely nudge above freezing later in the week.

“That will offer us a slow melt, and that’s really good news in handling the volume of snow, so we’re a little less concerned.”

In the meantime, she said, workers are still shooting to meet a city policy that requires all roads be cleared within 48 hours of the end of a snow event, in this case Wednesday evening.

Blais noted, however, that some streets may only receive a single pass from a plow, since clearing a wider swath would push snow up onto sidewalks that people worked hard to clear.

On Tuesday alone, Environment Canada’s instruments at the Penticton airport recorded 25.2 centimetres of snow, which buried the previous mark for that day of 9.8 cm set in 1983.

Environment Canada meteorologist Lisa Coldwells said the duration of the snowfall, which began Saturday night, was “unusual.”

“It was a combination of two things: We had Arctic air that continually kept refreshing itself as it moved southward out of the Yukon and that formed a little bit of a dome because all the Arctic air (was) now sitting in the bottom of the valleys.

“And over top of that you had a continuous stream of warm and moist Pacific air coming up and over the mountains,” she explained.

“It’s not an uncommon weather phenomenon, but what usually happens is the warm air always wins the battle and it quickly erodes that Arctic air and the snow turns over to rain.”

That lengthy battle was enough to scuttle WestJet Encore’s once-daily round trip between Penticton and Calgary on Sunday and Monday, which prompted the airline to add a second flight Tuesday afternoon.

Air Canada also cancelled all of its flights between Penticton and Vancouver on Sunday and Monday, plus its 6 a.m. departure Tuesday.

On the ground, however, things were relatively quiet.

“Lots of pushing and lots of people getting stuck, but not a lot of accidents,” said Penticton RCMP spokesman Sgt. Rick Dellebuur.

“I think when you get this much snow, it limits the amount of people out there and no one’s surprised when they get out there.”

Meanwhile, both the City of Penticton and Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen advised residents who didn’t receive regular curb-side garbage pickup on Monday to put out their rubbish again next Monday, when the regular two-bag limit won’t apply.