To track the amount of snow that falls in Alberta’s mountain parks, the province monitors real-time electronic data along with physically measuring the depth and weight to calculate its water equivalence.

So far this season, numbers show there is a lot of snow in the mountains.

At various points in mountain parks the snowpack averages between 115 and 145 per cent of normal.

The province says all the Kananaskis plots are above the 30-year normal right now. For example, the Highwood Pass season snow water equivalent is 19 per cent higher than the 30-year norm.

The averages so far have remained high this winter due to high accumulation in the early months of the year.

Dennis Rollag and Jim Zettel use a helicopter to reach dozens of remote snow survey sites each month throughout the winter and spring. Provincial meteorological technicians have been doing this for more than 50 years at the same sites to help build accurate data models.

“We do try and get it the last five days of the month and the first five days of the next month every year,” said Rollag.

“Then that way, I honestly think it is just consistency.”

The information is used by river forecasters to determine how much water will make it to Calgary and fill local reservoirs.

“So, people who are looking at the levels in reservoirs, how much water they can expect to come down in the spring and then they can make sure that they set their levels correctly at the reservoir,” said Rollag.

Zettel is a water monitoring technologist for the province and usually spends his days calculating water quality in Alberta’s rivers and streams. On this day, he’s helping measure the snowpack.

“So we just measure the depth and then from the density we can calculate the snow water equivalent,” he said.

Zettle is used to working outdoors but says the views from both the helicopter and survey sites are spectacular.

“This is the highlight of my month, seeing the scenery,” Zettle said. “I mean, I spent a lot of time here years ago and it’s really nice to come back and be a part of monitoring.”

The province says the snowpack alone doesn’t lead to flooding, but it’s how fast the snow melts with warm temperatures combined with heavy spring rains.

The real-time snowpack data can be viewed online.


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