The annual watch of the Hay River has begun in advance of spring break-up, which this year might be earlier than usual.
Ross Potter, the director of protective services with the Town of Hay River, took his first trip of the season up the river on April 10 to check out the ice conditions.
Potter said that first visual inspection found low water levels and ice cover that looks really weak.
“That’s a really good sign that the ice is starting to weaken and that the water levels are low throughout the watershed,” he said.
Potter travelled as far south as the Chinchaga River, a tributary of the Hay River north of High Level, and he saw ice all the way.
Based on that survey, he is “cautiously optimistic” about the coming break-up.
“So far, Mother Nature has been really nice to us and hopefully she continues that way,” he said.
Potter noted that break-up is normally over by May 8.
“At this point, I’m thinking it might be earlier,” he said. “We’ve had some really nice weather.”
Potter, who has been on the Hay River Fire Department since 1977, said he has seen break-ups in late April.
“We’ve had break-ups in April a number of times, actually,” he said.
That includes April 25 in 2011, April 27 in 1987 and 1988, and April 28 in 1992.
Potter said it is possible break-up might happen earlier than that this year.
“If it goes earlier than the 25th, that would be abnormal,” he said.
Overnight from April 11 to April 12, the ice started to move and there was open water at Paradise Valley and near the golf course.
Last week, Potter was setting up the Town of Hay River monitors – cameras and water-level gauges – at several locations on the river, including at Paradise Valley and the West Channel Bridge.
“We won’t be having the one at Pine Point Bridge due to the bridge construction this year,” he said, noting that site will be visually monitored.
Potter said the break-up might be similar to 2018.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a melt-out like it was last year,” he said, noting there was no big push of ice down the river.
“From what I’m seeing right now for water levels and that type of thing, I’m not anticipating any great, big pushes,” he added. “But again, things could change.”
A possible change in the river conditions could be caused by a sudden cold snap or a lot of rain.
The last time there was heavy flooding on Vale Island during spring break-up was 2008, and there was a little bit of flooding in 2009 and 2010.