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March weather bares its teeth

Monday, March 29th, 2010 | 1:40 pm

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Glowing lanterns in front of a Bernard Avenue business provided scant warmth as pedestrians sough cover from the rain that pelted Kelowna's downtown Monday morning. A cold front move through our area and the weather is expected to be variable for the rest of the week. (Photo Chris Stanford)

By Chris Stanford

Remember the old line about March coming in like a lion and out like a lamb? Forget that.

With the month winding down, residents of Kelowna and the Central Okanagan were greeted with some nasty weather Monday morning as a cold front blew in, bringing with it everything from hail and rain in the valley to snow on the surrounding mountain passes.

“The air is very cool and unstable in behind it,” said Environment Canada meteorologist David Jones, who is based in Vancouver. “This kind of scenario, where the winds are more or less blowing out of the southwest in the lower atmosphere, tends to produce a lot of snow when the air is cold enough.

“There was a fair bit of snow, some 15 to 20 centimetres in some places on the Coquihalla and very winter-like driving conditions.”

With the snow level hovering around 1,400 meters according to Environment Canada, Kelowna was spared snow, at least at the lower elevations. Instead we were pelted with a combination of rain and hail, sometimes blowing sideways as winds gust as high as 37 kms/hr at the Kelowna airport around noon.

While Okanagan Lake sits at an elevation of just over 340 metres above sea level, the Coquihalla is actually the second highest mountain pass road, reaching 1,728 metres at the Pennask Summit between West Kelowna and Merritt.

Most of the government webcams along the route to the Lower Mainland were showing fresh snow on the shoulders and written reports indicated slushy driving conditions.

While March came in relatively benign fashion, with no precipitation an a high of 12 C recorded on the first day of the month and temperatures reached a high of 16 C on Sunday, they dropped from around 10 C in the wee hours of Monday to only 6 C at the noon hour as the front passed through.

“It’s probably going to carry on and off like this today,” said Jones. “This evening the heavy flurries (at higher elevations) should diminish… but certainly the worst of it is today.”

The seven-day forecast calls for temperatures to remain slightly below the seasonal norm of 12 C, with Tuesday highs expected to reach only 9 C and with a 30 or 40 per cent chance of further precipitation scheduled for Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

According to Jones, this kind of weather is anything but unusual for this time of year. “It’s only the end of March, so this can carry on,” he said. “We can get snow on the ‘Coq in early June at times. It doesn’t last very long but we’re certainly not out of the potential for winter driving conditions in the high passes. It even snows down into the valleys at times in late March… so not over yet.”

Thursday the weather gurus are calling for a break in the unsettled conditions, with a high of 11 C and clear skies.


There were puddles everywhere on downtown Kelowna streets as a rain shower drenched people carrying on with their business Monday. (Photo Chris Stanford)

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