Mission Creek

Tourists from Lloydminster, Alta., Renee and daughter Norah checked out Mission Creek on Thursday. The creek is only 60% of its normal flow for this time of year as a drought continues despite rain.

Rain can be misleading, according to Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist.

“The perception is we’ve had a lot of rain lately,” said Lundquist.

“And it’s true — we’ve had showers multiple days over the past two weeks, but they don’t last long and they didn’t amount to much. For instance, overnight (from Wednesday to Thursday), it seemed like it rained a lot, but it was only about one millimetre.”

Thursday saw drizzle and showers most of the day. But, again, it hardly amounted to more than a couple of millimetres.

A millimetre of rain here and there, and the cloud cover that goes along with it, may annoy sun seekers, beach-goers, boaters and golfers, but it doesn’t soak the ground, fill reservoirs or replenish rivers, creeks and lakes.

As such, the provincial River Forecast Centre still considers the Okanagan to be in a Level 3 drought.

The province measures aridity in four levels: 1. normal, 2. dry, 3. very dry and 4. extremely dry.

A Level 3 drought ranking means many municipalities, including Kelowna, have restricted lawn watering and have raised the alarm that a long, hot, dry summer could lead to forest fires and smoky skies.

“It’s a sort of split story right now,” said Dave Campbell of the River Forecast Centre.

“Drought is defined by the level of B.C. reservoirs, creeks, rivers and lakes, not rain. We’ve certainly had rain, but it was only half of what we usually get this time of year.”

Two weeks ago, the flow of Mission Creek, one of the main feeders of melted snow and rain to Okanagan Lake, was half of normal.

That led forecasters to predict a one-in-100-year drought.

Recent rains have increased the flow in Mission Creek to 60% of normal, which is classified as a one-in-five-year drought.

Government agencies will meet again next week to compare data and see if the Okanagan is still in a Level 3 drought or if the ranking may be downgraded to Level 2 (dry).

While this week’s rain certainly didn’t seem conducive to wildfires, one did start on Wednesday just across the border near Oroville, Wash.

The Swanson Mill blaze, located about 20 kilometres south of Osoyoos, has since grown to about 80 hectares in size.

Smoke from the fire can be seen in Osoyoos, and the B.C. Wildfire Service is assisting in fighting the blaze by providing air tankers with crew.

Some reports suggest the fire may have been sparked by a tractor doing work in the area.

If that’s true, it reinforces how people can cause fires in dry conditions.

Lightning is another major cause of wildfires.

Lundquist characterizes the wet weather we’re getting now as typical of early June.

Therefore, this rain is a month late and has to fill the moisture deficit we’ve suffered the past four weeks.

“We really need the rain, whenever we get it,” said Lundquist.

We’ll certainly get it Friday and Saturday, when the forecast calls for showers that could amount to up to 20 millimetres.

That’s a drenching that could move the drought rating.

The weather Sunday, Monday and Tuesday will be drier and the sun could peek out, but there’s still the possibility of light rain.

By mid-week, summer weather of mostly sun should return with highs of 27 C.