Top ten weather stories for 2006: story two

Table of Contents

2. B.C. Weather Woes Part II: A December to Remember in BC

Residents of Vancouver Island and BC's Lower Mainland were reeling following one of the most powerful storms in history on December 15. It was the third blast in five days with all storms packing wind gusts well in excess of 100 km/h. The three storms lined up off the coast at the beginning of the week and - one after another - headed due east one day apart for Vancouver Island and BC's Lower Mainland. Three powerful storms in less than a week are bad enough, but to have them strike the same location straight-on is unprecedented. Some questioned El Nino or global warming but it was more likely just plain old bad luck.

The storm on December 11 lacked the rains of November, but its bluster crippled an already fragile power grid. Wind gusts were 96 km/h strong, enough to blow over two planes at the Victoria Airport. Anything not fixed or tied down became airborne. On December 13, another powerful storm with hurricane-force winds once again walloped the southwest. It brought down more trees and power lines - some repaired only a day before. BC Hydro called for reinforcements from Alberta and Yukon to relieve workers who had been putting in 16-hour days non-stop for three and a half weeks.

The third blast on December 15 produced the biggest punch and proved to be the worst of the season, surpassing the others in intensity and in the number of blackouts. In the early morning, winds shattered speed records as they howled in from the Pacific, toppling groves of trees seeded two centuries ago. The storm's destructive power was compared to that of Typhoon Freda in 1962. Winds topped 124 km/h in Victoria. At Race Rocks in the Juan de Fuca, winds hit 157 km/h prompting hurricane-force wind warnings.

At the peak of the storm, a record quarter of a million customers lost power. Several thousands had to go days before power and telephone service were restored. Hydro veterans could not remember a more devastating storm as they struggled to keep a strained electrical grid from total collapse. B.C. emergency personal described the weather as the most destructive storm event for hydro and telephone infrastructure in the province's history. Stanley Park was closed for days after thousands of trees were felled by the high winds. Over $100 million in property losses made it the most damaging and expensive windstorm in recent memory. People were calling it B.C.'s "Ice Storm". At Whistler, about 60 cm of snow fell in 24 hours, causing hundreds of motorists to be stranded on the Sea-to-Sky highway for 14 hours. Some people abandoned their vehicles and walked the few kilometres into Whistler through waist-deep snow.

Already this year about one million BC customers have lost their power, mostly because of the weather. The end of the year is usually stormy along the BC Coast, but the ferocity and the frequency of the storms this year is unprecedented. Since the beginning of November, nine storms have punished the coast - three times what is usual.

Date modified: