Throughout the remainder of February, the Water Security Agency (WSA) will be travelling around the province performing snow surveys at over a hundred sites.
The spokesperson for the WSA, Patrick Boyle says that the idea around the survey is to get a better idea of what the spring runoff will be in 2023.
“We’re trying to measure the snow/water equivalent or essentially how much water is in that snowpack in a certain area,” says Boyle. “Why that’s important is it helps us calculate when that snow melts and comes off the landscape what that potential reaction could be? It’s a really important piece of data.”
These snow surveys tie in with WSA Preliminary Runoff Report that they issued on Feb. 8. That report shared that while much of southern Saskatchewan has a snowpack that is thought to be near to above normal, dry conditions at freeze-up, particularly over areas west of Swift Current and Outlook over to the Alberta Border, are expected to reduce runoff yields.
The report said the below-normal runoff is due to the dry soil conditions that were seen at freeze-up in the early parts of winter, which were the result of low precipitation accumulations in 2022.
Though the current status is below-normal, Boyle says there is no concern currently, as that could change with still lots of winter left.
“We’re going to get some more snow, as we go forward with the rest of winter. We realistically have eight more weeks of that. What we want to do is understand what the snowpack is right now and how much water is there so we can calculate in our next forecast in March.”
“Every year is different and perspective is important. These snow surveys are a key piece of information.”
The WSA is confident in the long-range forecast by the US National Weather Service that shows that near-normal precipitation accumulations will be seen for the rest of February, into March and April.
It is important to note that seasonal weather forecasts are statistically unreliable, and their skill is particularly poor for predicting precipitation.
The data collected by the snow surveys will help provide additional information on water supply and flood risks for the spring.
Much of Saskatchewan's runoff comes from snowmelt, so these surveys are a key piece of information for forecasters.
Locally, Lake Diefenbaker is the biggest lake near Swift Current and has a slightly below-normal water level, which has caused lower outflows from the Gardiner Dam into the South Saskatchewan River.
In saying that though, the lake's snowpack and water levels in the spring are mostly determined by the Rocky Mountains and the Foothills in Alberta.
“We will get a better idea of that in March and April, as that continues to snow there.”
Flows on the North Saskatchewan River have been normal to above normal throughout the winter months.
The question remains, how are these snow surveys conducted?
“We use a graduated tube to collect a sample of the snowpack,” adds Boyle. “We drive into the ground, weigh the samples, and then calculate the snow/water equivalency for that area.”
Gathering and publishing this information helps municipalities, producers, industry, and other users plan ahead.
The snow survey results will be published in the WSA’s Spring Snowmelt Forecast report in early March.
Below is video of the snow survey process courtesy of the WSA: