Friday, December 21, 2018
T'was the Eve Before Blackness
There'll be no white Christmas for Vancouver Island. In fact, unless these high winds stop and allow the ferries to run normally again, for some it won't be much of a Christmas at all.
A post from a fellow blogger who recently moved to the island focused on the rain. Some of us call it the "rain festival" because it seems to run from October or November until April or May each year. We get a lot of rain, much of it coming in the form of squalls off the Pacific. They can bring pretty high winds, the sort that cancel ferry sailings.
The wettest place in North America is Henderson Lake, an inlet between Port Alberni at the head of the Alberni Inlet and Ucluelet, a fishing port on the west coast. There's a fish hatchery on the lake that operates as a weather station, keeping track of, what else, rain.
On average, Henderson Lake logs just over 270 inches of precip annually. In 1997 it set a record of 366 inches of rainfall for the year. For a little perspective, Toronto averages 31 inches per annum; Calgary, 16.5 inches of precipitation; Montreal, 39 inches of mixed precip; and even soggy Halifax, neck and neck with Vancouver, just 55 inches.
We've been getting hammered by squalls. Apparently el Nino has triggered another "pineapple express" with warm, extremely wet currents out of the southwest. These translate into a ripple effect of powerful storms that sweep through creating havoc with ferry sailings and toppling trees that leave thousands without power.
We had such an event yesterday around 10 a.m. A complete blackout. For some reason most of the homes in my area are all electric. Electric lights, electric baseboard heat, electric appliances - fridge, stove, water heater, etc. When the power goes out you're akin to a squatter.
This can be difficult enough for younger people. It is an order of difficulty worse for most of my neighbours, retirees, and especially the widows. Fortunately we're carefully groomed on emergency preparedness - the "Big One" to be specific. That's the category 9+ mega-quake that we're warned to expect somewhere between the next 50 minutes to 50 years. We're encouraged to be moderate preppers - generous stocks of fresh water, dried and tinned foods, first aid kits and such. Oh yeah, and plenty of batteries, scads of the things.
I'm a bit more fortunate than most. I have two gas appliances - a stove and a hot water heater. Both function in the blackout. I also have a high-efficiency wood stove/fireplace that generates a terrific amount of heat out of a minuscule supply of firewood.
Timing, as they say, is everything. Yesterday was the second shortest day of the year. With heavy storm clouds overhead it was pitch black by 4:30. Total darkness. When you illuminate your watch to discover that it's only 6:15, not something closer to midnight, the heart sinks. Today, of course, is the shortest day but we were favoured with clear skies although darkness still closed in by 4:50.
Then the miracle happened. The lights came back on. My house, toasty from a slow but steady supply of firewood during the day, was no longer plunged into darkness. My phone service was restored. My fridge and freezer got straight to work reversing the effects of the past 36 hours.
The restoration of power was indeed an early Christmas gift. At the same time the outage confirmed how prepared we were for this increasingly common event and where we needed to up our game.
I can't credibly blame the past two days on climate change but climate change will be delivering more severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration. With each one you learn to adapt just a little bit better, to rely less on things that can quickly turn unreliable.
On this, the shortest day of the year, it will be a long night. We will not endure it in total darkness.