I learned a new meteorological term this week: heat dome. What’s a heat dome, you ask?
A heat dome is when the summer sun warms the air, which then rushes up into the atmosphere to form a dome of slow-moving hot air. It’s different than an ordinary high-pressure system, however, because it’s stuck and can take a long time to move on.
The Pacific Northwest and British Columbia experienced a heat dome this past weekend, which has now moved on to Alberta. And so, this morning, for the first time in four days, I woke to comfortable temperatures.
Yup. It was four days of intense heat where the temperature was 20°C above the seasonal normal. Because we had a typical June-uary here in Vancouver (meaning the average daily high was about 18°C), the sudden change in temperature was a bit of a shock. But the time of year also means there is little time for the temperatures to cool down at night. It doesn’t get dark until after 10 p.m. and by 4 a.m., it is already starting to get light.
I know that many parts of the world have endured extreme heat waves before — northern Europe comes to mind — but it’s pretty unusual for Vancouver, which has a temperate climate and rarely experiences extreme hot or cold. I haven’t felt this warm in Vancouver in a very long time — more than a decade, to be honest.
Yesterday a colleague in Toronto asked me if we were also experiencing the same humidity that Toronto gets. I don’t think so, I told her. To my memory (which could certainly be faulty given the time that has passed since I lived in Toronto), what is an extreme heat wave for Vancouver actually feels much like a normal summer day for Toronto.
That’s not to say this heat dome didn’t have serious outcomes. At least 486 sudden and unexpected deaths have occurred in Metro Vancouver since Friday, which is about 300 deaths more than is typical in that time frame. To put that number into context, the health risks from this heat wave are greater than Covid right now. Much of the health risk is because the homes in Vancouver aren’t built to withstand this heat — most of us don’t have air conditioning. To provide some relief, cooling centres were set up in local community centres and libraries.
Until this past weekend, the hottest ever recorded temperature in Canada was 45°C in Saskatchewan, set back in July 1937. That record was shattered on Sunday at Lytton in the Fraser Canyon, about 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, when the temperature reached 46.6°C. That record lasted a mere 24 hours. And it was broken again yesterday, with a record high of 49.6°C. For my readers who think in Fahrenheit, that’s 121°F. These are not the kinds of records we want to be setting. That’s hotter than the highest-ever recorded temperature for Las Vegas.
Naturally, when there are hot, dry conditions, there is always the threat of wildfires. Tonight, Lytton burned to the ground. Residents of the village had only minutes to evacuate.
To get through my commitments for this week, I started work at 6 a.m. so I could stop at noon. And then, I headed to the beach where I found myself a comfortable spot in the shade. I do not know how I’d have gotten through these past few days without those hours of respite that the sea breeze off English Bay provided me.
Remember when I said I was going to stop writing about the weather? And the pandemic?
This was a tough weekend for some folks. Today is Family Day, a statutory holiday celebrated in about half of the country. This year it came right on the heels of Valentine’s Day and the Lunar New Year. Which means those of us who are inclined to get together with loved ones on any of these occasions have been three times tested in our resolve to follow the provincial health orders. Here in BC, we are now into our fourth month of in-person social gatherings being limited to the people we live with.
Also, come mid-February, most Canadians are utterly sick of winter. This is the time when those of us who can start escaping to the sun. But, with current travel restrictions, trips south just are not happening this winter.
So, yeah, that.
I, on the other hand, had so much to celebrate this weekend. Yes, my long-awaited snowfall finally showed up, thanks to the polar vortex. I woke up to a winter wonderland on Saturday morning and spent much of the day in Narnia (aka Stanley Park).
The snow is already gone, alas, washed away by last night’s rainfall. But for this Canadian, who loves snow but lives in a place where it is a novelty, it was a good weekend.
Here, take a look.
So. Here we are. The last day of the wildest, craziest year I’ve personally ever experienced.
You know what were the last words I wrote on this blog in 2019?
“May we all see more of the light in 2020.”
Ha. What a sweet, summer child I was a year ago.
So many strange words are part of our vernacular now. Physical distancing. Lockdown. Bend the curve. Quarantine. Bubble. Circuit breaker. Phase 2. Red zone. Tier 4.
One word I never want to hear again?
This is a travel blog, but, like everyone else, I’ve stayed still this year. But here’s something I’ve learned while bird-watching: it is only when you stay still that you really hear the bird song.
This assortment of boats on English Bay is my photo choice for my last post of 2020 because it illustrates something that British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said at a press conference a lifetime ago way back in May.
We’re in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat. For some people, it’s been a luxury yacht, and for others we’re really an open skiff adrift without a working engine.”
Despite my naive wish a year ago that we put a miserable 2019 well behind us and all my hopes for a much better 2020, I will still, in faith and in hope, wish all of us a happy new year and all the best for 2021, whatever that may bring. May your seas remain calm, may your boat stay afloat, and may we all hear the bird song.
This is Eugenia, another of the sculptures that light up English Bay this time of year. She’s named for Eugenia Place, an iconic condo building along Beach Avenue that stands out because of the oak tree that stands tall on its roof deck.
This Eugenia changes colour from white to green to blue to pink to white again, but I think she looks most spectacular dressed in white.
Hey everybody! Meet Stanley!
Every year around this time, Stanley lights up English Bay. He is part of the Lumière Festival, which, since it’s easily possible to physically distance while looking at the displays, is one of the few holiday festivals that still took place in Vancouver this year.
Stanley is named after Stanley Park, home to one of the largest urban Great Blue Heron colonies in North America. He stands four metres tall and is made of more than 10,000 lights.
Golden hour. Magic hour.
No matter what you call it, end-of-day light is enchanting.
It had to end, eventually.
This week marked the transition from our Summer of Covid, such as it was, to an autumn that appears to be headed towards another lockdown. I have begun mentally preparing myself for what I expect to be calling the Long Winter.
But before we spiral too far down, here’s one final beach post to share with you.
And what a beach it is.
Spanish Banks is the furthest of the beaches along the southern shore of English Bay. It looks a lot like Locarno and Jericho, but with one rather significant difference. That would be the sandbank it sits on, which lets you walk far out into the bay at low tide.
Both Spanish Banks and English Bay got their names in commemoration of an accidental meeting that took place in 1792 between two expeditions: the English one led by George Vancouver and the Spanish one led by Cayetano Valdés y Flores and Dionisio Alcalá Galiano. It was an accidental meeting because the English did not know the Spanish were in the neighbourhood, nor were the Spanish aware that the English were nearby.
In the end, though, they all got along and spent several weeks exploring and charting the Strait of Georgia together.
Although Spanish Banks, like all of Vancouver’s beaches, has swimmers and picnickers in abundance, it is really popular with kitesurfers and skimboarders at low tide.
Locarno Beach is like the proverbial middle child. Sandwiched between its wildly popular sister, Jericho Beach, and its aloof and distant brother, Spanish Banks, it is easily missed and often bypassed.
The real reason Locarno is quieter, though, is because it’s a designated “quiet beach.” Meaning: no loud music. Its name comes from an unlikely source: a town in southern Switzerland right next to the Italian border.
Here’s a pro tip: being quieter and often overlooked means that Locarno is the only beach where there are no lines for either the concession or the washrooms.
Even on a hot summer long weekend.
About a half hour walk (or ten-minute bike ride) past Kitsilano Beach is another of Vancouver’s most popular beaches. That would be Jericho.
Jericho Beach got its name from a man named Jeremiah Rogers, who in the 1860s established a logging company nearby that he named Jerry & Co. Jerry & Co. eventually morphed into “Jericho.” Or the name evolved from Jerry’s Cove. (You decide which version you want to believe.)
Long before Jeremiah, or any European settlers for that matter, came along, the Musqueum Nation lived on the beach in a village they called iy’a’l’mexw, which means “good land.”
There has been a military presence at Jericho Beach since 1920, and Jericho Garrison was established during World War II as the Pacific command headquarters for the Canadian Forces. Later, some of the military buildings along the beach were repurposed: the army barracks were converted into the Jericho Beach Youth Hostel, a military gym is now the Jericho Arts Centre, and the base itself became the Jericho Sailing Centre.
It’s the Jericho Sailing Centre that makes Jericho Beach so popular and busy today. There are schools, clubs, and rentals for all types of water sports, including sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, and paddle boarding. In addition, Jericho Beach Park, just adjacent to the beach, is the site of the annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival.
All these varied activities are enough to keep most people happy and busy, but I have to say, nothing beats knocking off work early and enjoying a beer and burger with friends on the deck of the Jericho Sailing Centre.
I should know.
The beach generally thought to be Vancouver’s most popular has one thing in spades.
That would be attitude.
I mean, sure, Kits Beach is a great beach. You can swim in the ocean or do laps in the adjacent saltwater pool. There’s are tennis courts, if you like, or beach volleyball. If you’re hungry, there’s both a concession stand and a dine-in restaurant, or you can cross the street and enjoy Happy Hour at any number of nearby pubs.
But for me, truthfully, other than an occasional picnic with friends, Kits Beach is somewhere I always walk, cycle, or drive past on my way to somewhere else. It’s just a little too crowded for my taste.
And so, I leave Vancouver’s most popular beach to those who want to see and be seen.