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Top ten weather stories for 2006: story nine

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9.   BC's Long Wet and Long Dry

From late December through January, a persistent weather front parked over the Pacific coast bringing pounding rains day after day to the Canadian "wet" coast, and a strong flow of mild, relatively dry Pacific air to the rest of the country. While Vancouverites had to endure a long spell of damp, gloomy weather the rest of us were basking in unseasonable warmth from the same flow.

By the end of January the precipitation total in Vancouver was 283.6 mm, beating by a sliver the previous record of 281.8 mm in 1992 (normal 154 mm), but well below the all-time watermark of 351 mm set in November 1983. January also broke the record for the number of days with rain in any month - 29 of 31 days - and tied for the warmest January ever at 6.3°C. However, it was not so much the amount of rain that fell (although the amounts were impressive), but the fact that it rained so often. Day-after-day-after-day of rain for three straight weeks is unusual, even for Vancouver. Residents of the Lower Mainland came to calling it the Lower Rainland following never-ending downpours that were wearing out umbrellas and spirits. Officially, the lengthy water torture began on December 19 and continued relentlessly until January 14; 27 consecutive days and one day shy of tying the longest string of wet days on record. Many threatening rain clouds were in sight on January 15 and a few raindrops fell downtown and elsewhere, but no measurable rainfall (0.2 mm or more) occurred at the airport, where it counts.

Obviously, the dull, dreary, damp weather got people down. Irritation, depression, and weather rage prevailed. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is at its worst in January, seemed to afflict the entire population. During the rainy period, Vancouverites registered less than 12 hours of sunshine in 26 days compared to a normal amount of 54 hours. The only thing that kept people cheery was the thought of tying then breaking the previous mark for weather misery that ran 28 days from January 7 to February 3, 1953. But at one day shy, it didn't happen. The weather forced the postponement of several outdoor activities and raised concerns about mudslides in North Vancouver. On a positive note, the wet weather filled water reservoirs, kept crime down, and umbrella and tarp sales up. Fortuitously, it was an insurance policy against a potentially dry summer.

And dry it was - record dry! Going into the Labour Day weekend, the resort town of Tofino on Vancouver Island's west coast is one of the wettest spots in Canada., declared it was running out of water, prompting emergency rationing. Lodgings and businesses were asked to shut down in order to conserve water in case of fire. Tofino averages 3,310 mm of precipitation a year - six times the Canadian average. Rainfall totals between May and August inclusive amounted to half the norm with no significant rainfall from July 14 to September 16. The August rainfall total was a paltry 5.6 mm, a new record low, and a long way from the normal 92.7 mm. Adding to the water stress were average temperatures 1 to 2 degrees warmer than normal and featuring several near 30°C days. One long-time resident claimed he'd never seen creeks so dry. The town's reservoir on Meares Island was nearly empty. How ironic that the picturesque community by the sea was enjoying its best weather in memory, only to be closed down by a summer-long drought.

Elsewhere on Vancouver Island, Port Alberni's May-to-August precipitation (67.4 mm compared to the usual 193.3 mm) was a mere 35 per cent of normal. At Victoria, 2.4 mm of rain fell in August with most coming on one day. Mind you, it was not the driest month on record. No rain fell in August 1986.

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