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.
Golden hour. Magic hour.
No matter what you call it, end-of-day light is enchanting.
Something shifted for me last week. It started on Thursday when the provincial health orders announced on November 7 for Metro Vancouver were extended to the entire province and until December 7. (And I have no illusions they won’t be extended again.)
And then, on Friday morning, our prime minister reverted to work-at-home and did his media appearance from the stoop of his home in Ottawa.
It feels like we’re right back where we were last March.
The second wave (or, as I like to call it, the Long Winter) that we’ve been talking about since last summer is starting to feel very, very real.
What does this mean for me personally? Pretty much the same as the last eight months: I will hunker down and do everything I can to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
I’ll start by posting a series of photos from my recent daily walks. Because they make me happy. Maybe they’ll cheer you up too.
Here, then, are four trees I took notice of one Saturday afternoon about a month ago. I think they’re Douglas fir, but I could be wrong.
My favourite Vancouver beach is Third Beach. Like Second Beach, it’s part of Stanley Park, but it is enough of a walk from my home that it feels like a destination beach. And with its small parking lot, it’s never as crowded as some of the more popular beaches on the other side of English Bay.
Much of the forest behind Third Beach was cleared by the military during World War II to make room for an army barracks. The soldiers were there to command a gun battery at Ferguson Point and a lookout point opposite Siwash Rock, both of which overlook Third Beach. The gun installation is no longer there, but the lookout still is.
It’s odd, some 80 years later, to think of Stanley Park as a strategic military site, but because of its location at the entrance to Burrard Inlet and the Port of Vancouver, it most definitely was.
Second Beach is the smallest of Vancouver’s beaches. It’s located alongside the Stanley Park Seawall, next to Second Beach Pool and Ceperley Meadow.
The beach is a popular picnic site, especially for large, multi-generational families, because of all the amenities available. The meadow provides lots of room for kicking around a ball, and in addition to the beach and the pool, there are two playgrounds and a concession stand.
English Bay Beach is the most urban-looking of Vancouver’s beaches, thanks to its close proximity to the residential towers of the West End.
Also known as First Beach (although no one calls it that), English Bay Beach has been popular with the residents of Vancouver since the 1890s, which is when they first began building summer cottages along the bay. Two of those cottages were still standing when I moved to the neighbourhood some 20 years ago, but they’ve since been down torn down and replaced with a boutique condo.
Typically at the end of July, more than half a million people descend on English Bay Beach for three nights of fireworks competition during the annual Celebration of Light. Not this year, of course — and who would have thought I would miss all that chaos?
Instead, this year, English Bay Beach became infamous for its beach log jail when our iconic beach logs were locked up behind metal cages for the first ten weeks of the pandemic. The reason? To avoid large groups congregating on the logs.
English Bay Beach is popular with swimmers and although the lifeguards are back during this summer of Covid, the floating slide is not.
Maybe next year.
Here we go again. Sigh.
Who knew beaches would turn out to be such a lightning rod during this pandemic?
Beach-shaming has become the thing to do whenever Vancouverites take advantage of a sunny weekend and flock to the beaches. People who are not at the beach get upset at those who are, and, well, words are said.
The thing is, the people doing the shaming all seem to live in large suburban homes with large suburban backyards, while the people who are spending time on the beach live in tiny condos with little or no outdoor access.
The other issue is that those who are doing the shaming base their indignation on photos that, intentionally or not, are quite misleading. Camera angles and lens sizes can distort reality, I’ve learned. And when you walk past one of Vancouver’s beaches on a sunny weekend, it is clear that people are, for the most part, staying apart.
Vancouver has not been alone in its beach-shaming. There have been similar incidents of crowded parks and over-the-top reactions in Montreal and Toronto as well. The latest uproar — which is what prompted me to write this post — concerns the crowds seen at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, last weekend. I spent many childhood summers swimming in Alberta lakes — I know how lovely they can be on a hot summer’s day. I’ll reserve judgement on what the Albertans were up to last weekend, but I will say this: Central Alberta isn’t exactly known for its high-density neighbourhoods.
Some of the smartest talk I’ve heard about the pandemic relates to these kinds of incidents. We can’t see the virus, but a large group of people gathered together outdoors is visible in all kinds of ways. We know that yelling at a virus is pretty futile, but somehow yelling at a group of people who aren’t behaving as we think they should makes us feel better. Or morally superior? I dunno.
There’s also the novel idea that we — all of us — should focus not on what behaviours we are entitled to, but on what impact our actions have on others. Pandemic ethics in a nutshell, I call it. Meaning, those of us who do have access to a backyard, or perhaps a smallish, but perfectly adequate park in our immediate neighbourhood, should stay close to home instead of heading out to a popular park or beach where there might be a crowd. Leave room at the park or beach for those who don’t have a backyard — you know, the family who’s been cooped up indoors all day, or the group of people who live alone and have limited options for socializing in a physically distant way.
And that is why when reporters asked a few months ago why Vancouver wasn’t closing its parks and beaches, our provincial health officer responded by first reminding everyone that we need to stay apart, but then urging everyone to get outdoors for the sake of their mental health.
I’ve been meaning for some years to do a summer series on Vancouver’s beaches, but time got away from me, as time tends to do. Now I’m thinking my procrastination has been rather fortuitous in that there has never been a better time to talk about Vancouver’s beaches than during this summer of staycations. I have several within walking distance of my home — you can’t get much more staycation than that.
To start us off, here’s a photo of my closest beach. Located along the appropriately named Beach Avenue, Sunset Beach is not wildly popular for swimming, likely due to its proximity to False Creek and rather a lot of boat traffic. But it is a great spot for picnics, and for watching the sun set. I took this photo from Burrard Bridge a couple of summers ago.
Here’s something pretty for you all to look at. The roses in Stanley Park are in full bloom right now, as they are every summer from June until September.
This year feels a little more special since the Stanley Park Rose Garden is celebrating its 100th birthday. It is the largest public rose garden in Western Canada and has a total of 3500 rose bushes spread over 60 beds. The Rose Garden is situated between Stanley Park’s rainforest and a small grove of Akebono cherry trees that bloom every April.
If there ever was an opportune time to stop and smell the roses, it is right now.
I was beyond thrilled to see my first ever Steller’s Jay a couple of weeks ago while on a long walk through Stanley Park.
About six of them darted back and forth from the trees to the seeds put out by a fellow birder and back to the trees again.
With migration season upon us, you never know who you might bump into while out for a walk in the woods.