A number of cities in the Southern Interior saw extremely dry conditions throughout spring, including Kamloops, which marked its driest spring since 1901 — the second-driest on record.
With just 10.3 millimetres of rain falling in March, April and May — known as meteorological spring — Kamloops saw just about 20 per cent of its normal rainfall.
On average, the three-month span pours 54 millimetres of rainfall over Kamloops.
Most of the Southern Interior was “extraordinarily dry,” according to Doug Lundquist, a warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Both Kelowna and Vernon had record-setting dry conditions and each city has more than 100 years of weather records. Penticton saw its fifth-driest ever spring, while even Lower Mainland locales saw dry conditions, including the driest-ever spring in Abbotsford, according to Lundquist.
Kamloops’ driest-ever record stands, however, with just six millimetres falling in 1901.
Lundquist said the reason for the dry spell isn’t clear, but he has some ideas.
“The fact that we’ve had a very strong ridge of high pressure offshore in a northwesterly flow is the explanation as to why it’s been so strong and consistent,” he said, noting such a pattern tends to bring dry air into the region.
Lundquist said he plans on researching the particularly dry year a little more, noting there are some big-picture ideas to look into.
“There could even be a climate change component, as well. There’s not any one thing it can be pinned on,” he said, pointing to an unusual lack of sea ice at both poles, especially in the north.
The lack of rainfall leaves much of B.C. in a precarious position, with the threat of wildfires looming.
The amount of rainfall in June is one indicator used to determine how severe a wildfire season might be.
Lundquist said typically, June is typically the region’s rainiest month, along with late May and early July.
“That’s our monsoon wet season here in the B.C. Interior. We’re already more than a third of the way through and we haven’t gotten rain. The pattern doesn’t look like it’s changing significantly toward rain,” he said.
So far, June has recorded 7.8 mm of rain in Kamloops, but Lundquist said spotty periods of rain might not be enough.
In 2017, a fire season that saw 1.2 million hectares of the province burned and tens of thousands of people displaced due to evacuations, just 3.4 mm of rain fell in the region in June. But in 2018, another record-setting year, June precipitation was near the average, with 36.8 mm falling.
The BC Wildfire Service’s seasonal outlook for June acknowledges the dry conditions. So far, the area burned this year is below average, but there has been a slightly above average number of fires.
“Despite the dry conditions in the south, the amount and average size of wildfires have been relatively low when compared to historical data,” the report reads.
“This reduced fire size is likely due to seasonal ‘green up’ of grass and other fuels.”
The wildfire service said if current weather trends continue, the province can expect a the frequency and size of fires to increase.
Another indicator, measured by Natural Resources Canada, is called the buildup index. It measures the total amount of fuel available for combustion.
As of Tuesday, June 8, Kamloops and much of the Southern Interior rests in the red zone on the buildup index, the highest on the scale.
The region’s fire danger rating remains in the orange or “very high” range.
The only fire currently burning in the Kamloops Fire Centre is located about 12 kilometres southwest of Ashcroft. It is currently being held at 19 hectares and was sparked on June 5.
Cause of the fire is as yet unknown.