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Canada's Top Ten Weather Stories for 2011
British Columbia - Regional Highlights
According to the Canadian Avalanche Centre, 11 people died this year in avalanches in British Columbia and Alberta; the yearly average is between 12 and 14. In the last full week of January, following an intense thaw and heaps of wet, heavy snow on top of a fragile snow base and with strong winds now mixed in, officials raised the avalanche risk to high. Experts called it the worst avalanche conditions in 30 years. Less than a month later, on February 20, three men from Alberta were killed in an avalanche triggered while they were snowmobiling near Golden, B.C. At times, strong winds, heavy snow, low cloud and a high avalanche threat made recovery efforts slow and challenging. Winter/spring in 2011 featured one of the longest snow seasons on record – much to the delight of snow enthusiasts – but it also added to the avalanche risk. In an unprecedented move, the Canadian Avalanche Centre extended its monitoring operations beyond April 21.
Winter’s Two-Week Blast
Although slow in coming, winter finally showed up along Canada’s west coast in mid-February. Rain, hail, bitter cold and snow were all packed into the season’s first winter storm across Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland over a 10-day period. Temperatures dipped to -10°C and snow blanketed the ground and roads. Drivers in Victoria had a hard time getting around through 25 cm of snow and strong gusty winds of 60 km/h made driving slippery and frustrating. In Vancouver, a record wind chill prompted a flurry of emergency shelter bed openings throughout the B.C. Lower Mainland. On February 26, between 6 and 20 cm of snow blanketed Vancouver and the surrounding region.
Dull Spring in Vancouver
March was cold, grey and soggy in Vancouver, with only four dry days in the entire month, while April’s average afternoon temperature was almost two degrees below normal. The city actually set a record for the most days in April in which the daily high temperature fell below the average. Adding to the misery, spring rainfall was 28 per cent more than normal and sunshine averaged more than 20 per cent below normal, including a third of the days experiencing one hour less of sunshine than average. Residents of the B.C. Lower Mainland fared worse, with only 55 per cent of the entire month’s normal sunshine. Average afternoon temperatures for April and May were the coldest since record keeping began 74 years ago and the month of April was the coldest in 36 years, with the maximum temperature the second coldest on record. May was also short on sunshine by about 64 hours.
Spring and Summer Flooding
The flood threat in British Columbia was much delayed in 2011 because of cooler-than-normal temperatures. Across the province, snowpack levels in April and May were about 110 per cent of normal, with some areas such as the Okanagan as much as 140 per cent of normal – its highest snowpack level in 30 years. At a time when the snowpack should be dwindling, it was actually increasing by 15 to 20 per cent. With the spring freshet delayed by about four weeks, B.C. faced a higher-than-normal flood risk. Milder temperatures inevitably arrived, bringing with them an increased danger of flooding in the B.C. Interior in late May and early June, when the River Forecast Centre issued flood warnings throughout the province. In the third week of June, torrential rains of as much as 150 mm fell over a 48-hour period, triggering another flood warning for rivers in northeast B.C. And following three days of heavy rains and road washouts in late June, several communities across northern British Columbia were put on flood alert. Fort St. John reported 117 mm of rain in just two days, while Dawson Creek saw 81 mm.
In July, millions of dollars in damage was caused when heavy rainstorms washed out highways and roads between Chetwynd and Mackenzie Junction. The province offered funding to repair ruined bridges, crumbled roadbeds and damaged homes and businesses that had fallen victim to the deluge. When water levels on the Fraser River climbed 2 m above the average level near Prince George, evacuation orders were issued. Of note, the highest water levels of the year at Prince George typically occur in late May or early June. On July 10, the city declared a state of local emergency and issued an evacuation order. Three weeks of rain and snowmelt a month later than normal created critical and unusual mid-summer flood warnings, while heavy rainfall (close to 150 mm) over the mid-July weekend damaged about 100 sites through northeast British Columbia. Across northern and central regions, the weather impacted the resource sector, with the ground too wet for logging and overland flooding washing out roads that curtailing gas drilling operations and mining.
Around September 27, a very moist Pacific frontal system stalled across northern Vancouver Island and the central coast of British Columbia. The storm walloped the coast for three days, leading to floods, power outages and ferry cancellations. People living in and around Vancouver experienced 50 mm of rain, while residents of Squamish saw 130 mm. Some areas also experienced wind gusts of over 100 km/h. BC Hydro recorded 45,000 power outages – mostly in the northern part of Vancouver Island, where mudslides and floods isolated several communities. On the mainland, residents along the banks of the Bella Coola River were forced out of their homes. Along the North Coast, rainfall of 235 mm over two days washed away roads around Stewart and Terrace. And in Vancouver, heavy rains delayed final repairs on panels covering the new renovated BC Place stadium.
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