As of a month ago, Vancouver had received more snow this winter than Edmonton. As someone who spent her childhood in Edmonton (where, in the coldest part of each winter, I would stand in our snow-covered driveway and try to remember what summer felt like — I could never do it), I find that fact rather astonishing.
A bunch more of the white stuff arrived this past week. Our streets have been a sloppy mess since Saturday night as the temperatures hovered just above freezing during the day. Every street corner I had to cross was an ankle-deep puddle that reminded me, ironically, of those early spring days in Edmonton when the snow melts all at once. Our schoolyard was always a giant puddle on days like that, and I often walked home from school with soaking wet feet.
Here, in Vancouver, more snow was forecasted last night, but it rained instead, and now most of the snow in my neighbourhood is gone.
Typically after a heavy snowfall, I head to Stanley Park to take photos of snow-covered trees. After the big dump of snow we had just before Christmas, I decided to head instead to Gastown. Here are a couple of the photos I took that day.
Through My Lens: In the Pink
Did you know that three days ago was Blue Monday? Apparently it’s the most depressing Monday of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
I can believe it. But yesterday, when the sun (finally) came out and I got myself over to Lost Lagoon, all I saw was pink. I took this photo a few minutes after the sun went down.
Oh, the Weather Outside Is Frightful
Oooh boy. Christmas travel is chaotic at best, but this year is turning out to be a real doozy. On top of today being the busiest travel day of the year, as per usual, the entire country from coast to coast to coast is being walloped by storms.
Here in Vancouver, it’s our third storm since Sunday. Bridges are closed, some lines of the Skytrain aren’t running, and this afternoon I waded through a week’s worth of snow in a futile attempt to get groceries. (Given Vancouver’s minimal snow removal budget, our residential side streets do not get cleared.)
Half of the flights out of Vancouver since Sunday have been cancelled. And as soon as one major Canadian airport is a mess, there’s a ripple effect on all other major airports in the country because none of the planes and flight crews are where they’re supposed to be. Two young people related to me spent most of Tuesday at YVR, hoping against hope their flight to Alberta would go. It did not, and they left instead by train this afternoon, hoping to get home to their parents by Christmas Eve. I told them that taking a train through the Rockies was a rite of passage; I didn’t have the heart to tell them that VIA Rail never runs on time.
Locally, BC Ferries has cancelled multiple sailings, not only due to the inclement weather, but because of frozen pipes and staff not being able to get to the terminals. Yesterday, the BC government held an impromptu news conference, and the minister with the most unwieldy portfolio title ever — Emergency Management and Climate Readiness — urged everyone to stay off the roads except in case of emergency.
That it is the first Christmas since the start of the pandemic where people finally feel comfortable travelling seems a cruel irony. As the Yiddish proverb goes, “We plan, God laughs.”
All I can say is: I wish everyone travelling mercies, good health, and a very, merry Christmas. Goodness knows, we deserve one.
Through My Lens: A Snowy View Over English Bay
If this keeps up, Vancouver will have to give up its nickname as the Tropics of Canada. I took this photo this afternoon.
Through My Lens: November Light
There’s something special about the light on the bay this time of year. I took this photo a few days ago. A friend said it was like pewter and old gold.
All right. Let’s get the obligatory first-snow-of-the-season post out of the way. Here’s a photo I took a week ago today.
Yup, we went from summer to winter in less than three weeks. First the rains came in a series of atmospheric rivers, and then the first bad windstorm of the season. Trees stressed from the drought and still in full foliage came down by the thousands, pulling power lines down with them. At the height of the storm, more than 300,000 people were without power.
After all that, an Arctic outflow blanketed much of the province for the better part of a week. Vancouver’s dusting of snow on Monday night a week ago was its earliest snowfall in decades.
Just so I’m not writing about our weather every single week, I put off posting this photo until today. That’s because I knew I wanted to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic floods and mudslides that ravaged British Columbia. There’s been a lot of local media coverage about it the past few days because, well, it was pretty traumatic. A lot of people are still in recovery mode.
Even the barge that came up on the rocks at the end of my street a year ago today is still there. In the end, it had to be dismantled and taken away bit by bit. A salvage team has been working on that momentous task since last summer. They’re almost done and I cannot lie: I’ll be glad when it’s gone.
Incidentally, although the Pitch & Putt at Stanley Park is open year-round (subject to conditions), it was closed the day I took the above photo. But obviously that did not stop the die-hard golfers you see in my photo.
Then again, Vancouverites are known to never let the weather stop them from doing what they love best.
Crocuses Two Ways
Through My Lens: Palm Trees on a Snowy Beach
When feeling particularly smug (which, truth be told, can be far too often), residents of BC’s Lower Mainland like to call where we live “The Tropics of Canada.”
Which is pretty funny.
I took this photo after last month’s snowstorm.
BC’s Wacky Winter Weather
That is a wayward barge that was pushed onto the beach during last November’s atmospheric river — the storm that caused so many problems in our province. An atmospheric river is a band of heavy moisture up to several thousand kilometres long, but just a few hundred kilometres wide, that develops over tropical ocean areas before moving north and inland. (I’ve now added the term to my meteorological lexicon, along with heat dome.)
The atmospheric river that ran over southern BC last November dumped about a month’s worth of rain on the region in just 48 hours. Along with all that moisture came some strong winds, which is how this barge ended up on Sunset Beach in English Bay. It has its own Twitter account and is a constant reminder that not all is well, climatically speaking, in my home province.
(C’mon. You didn’t think I’d let a winter go by without talking about the weather, did you?)
That storm, the first of four atmospheric rivers to hit southern BC in one month, knocked out an unprecedented amount of BC’s infrastructure.
For starters, the Nooksack River in Washington State overflowed its banks and then flowed downhill into Canada, completely flooding the Sumas Prairie in the Fraser Valley for an entire month. Located about an hour east of Vancouver, the Sumas Prairie is on the other side of the mountain in this photo, but you get the idea from the photo of the geography involved.
The first time I drove through the Fraser Valley was as a teenager when my family moved from Alberta to BC. After so many hours of driving through endless mountain passes, I could not believe how absolutely horizontal the landscape was.
“And they say the prairies are flat,” I remember thinking.
But that’s a river delta for you, and its rich soil is why the Fraser Valley is home to more than half of BC’s dairy and poultry production. Close to a million animals died during the floods, and thousands of acres of blueberry plants were also ruined. We’ll be feeling the effects of this flood for years to come as the farmers work to bring their fields and farms back into production.
Two other communities, Merritt and Princeton, were also flooded. To give you an idea of the scale involved, the area of BC under flood watch last November was equivalent to the size of Belgium.
Then, in addition to the floods, a series of mudslides and washouts extensively damaged all the railways and highways connecting Vancouver to the BC Interior and the rest of Canada. Five people died, and 275 people spent two days trapped between mudslides on one major highway until they were evacuated by helicopter.
With our transportation network knocked out, nothing from Canada’s largest port could get to the rest of the country and no shipments for export could get to the Port of Vancouver (including grain shipments at a most critical time of year).
The pipeline that brings fuel to the Lower Mainland was initially shut down as a precautionary measure but then remained shut for three weeks, which led to gas rationing in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. Fuel was brought in from the US by barge.
Talk about supply chain issues.
It was three weeks before the trains started running again. The largest and busiest highway in BC, the Coquihalla, reopened to commercial traffic only on December 20 and to all traffic last week. That it reopened as quickly as it did is quite the engineering feat: more than 130 kilometres of the highway in 20 different sections were extensively damaged, including five collapsed or heavily damaged bridges. It’s not business as usual — the highway will remain an active construction zone for the foreseeable future as all of the repairs are temporary.
There is scarcely nothing left of Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge where the Nicola River changed course and took the road out with it. The Trans-Canada Highway through the Fraser Canyon reopened only this week. Just to give you a bit of an idea of what the engineers working on the repairs are faced with, this is what parts of the Fraser Canyon look like.
I missed out on all those atmospheric rivers while I was in Alberta. And although I also missed out on Vancouver’s first white Christmas in thirteen years, I did get back home in time for another spectacular dump of snow.
Which was … stunning.
But then, just over a week later, a king tide and wind storm pummelled the city and our world-famous Stanley Park seawall.
Some of the damage was caused by logs set free by the November floods that came down the Fraser River and have been in the water since.
Why am I writing all this? Well, last year was pretty tough on all of us, but, to be honest, I don’t have much hope that this year will be any easier. If it’s not the pandemic, it’s drought and wildfires. And if it’s not drought and wildfires, it’s flooding and mudslides. We call these events natural disasters, but there is nothing natural about once-in-a-century storms happening every year. Atmospheric rivers are not new to BC, and they aren’t all bad. (They play an important role in maintaining BC’s water supply.) But they are increasing in intensity and frequency, so much so that oceanographers are coming up with a rating system for them, like the ones used for tornadoes and hurricanes, to help us better understand their risks.
What I find most sobering is the realization that BC has climate refugees. Months later, people who had to evacuate because of the wildfires or the floods are still out of their homes. Many will never go back to their communities.
It’s a lot to take in about the place where you live.
One last note: Barge Chilling Beach is a bit of an inside joke for those of us who live in Vancouver. Google “Dude Chilling Park” if you want to know more. The sign is temporary and has since been taken down.
Winter Comes to the West End
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.