In celebration of Global BC’s 60th Anniversary on Oct. 31, here is a look back at the top weather stories of each decade from the 1960s until now.
Top weather story of the 1960s — Typhoon Freda
The remnants of Typhoon Freda hit the B.C. coast late at night on Oct. 12, 1962.
The storm was so fierce, some say trees were breaking off and flying across roads. In B.C. alone, it caused seven deaths and more than $600 million in damage, according to BC Hydro’s estimate, adjusted to today’s dollars.
The storm still holds the record for one of the highest wind gusts on record at the Vancouver Airport at 126 km/h but, parts of Vancouver Island experienced even stronger gusts of up to 145 km/h.
More than 4,000 trees were knocked down and 20 per cent of Stanley Park was damaged.
Top weather story of the 1970s — Kamloops flood of 1972
Signs of potential flooding started early in the season with a cold start to spring and a near record snowpack.
But the recipe for disaster was completed in late May, when a sudden change in weather brought two weeks of heat.
The snow melted rapidly and despite desperate attempts to sandbag the region, the dike along the Thompson River failed on June 2.
A large swath of Kamloops, including more than 200 homes, was submerged.
But the impact of this extreme spring thaw didn’t end there. The first two weeks of June then brought not only heat but heavy rains, too.
The flooding in Kamloops extended right into the city center and smaller floods began occurring around the province, from Prince George, to the Similkameen, Shuswap, Okanagan, and right down to the Lower Fraser in Surrey.
The total damage reached $62 million in today’s dollars, but thankfully no lives were lost. A monument now stands next to the Thompson River in Kamloops showing the height of the water on the highest day.
Top weather stories of the 1980s
The 1980s seemed to be the decade of extreme weather, and a dozen monthly records at YVR still stand from that time period. Here are three of those events.
In November of 1985, record cold wreaked havoc across the Lower Mainland.
It stayed below zero degrees Celsius in Metro Vancouver for nine days and the city experienced the coldest November low ever recorded at -14.3 C.
There were dozens of house fires as residents tried to keep warm.
In the Fraser Valley, the highways were treacherous with ice and blowing snow for almost two weeks.
The Fraser River completely froze in some areas and the Coast Guard had to be called in.
In November of 1989, record rainfall flooded the region.
This is typically a wet month, but that year 65 millimeters (2.5 inches) of rain fell in one day at the Vancouver Airport.
This is the most amount of rain in 24 hours ever recorded in that month. Roads all around the city became lakes, residents tried hard to sandbag but major flooding occurred across the city.
In January of 1981, daytime highs reached a monthly record breaking 15.3 C for two days in a row, and the Lower Mainland had seven days of double-digit temperatures.
If you’re wondering, yes, we had a long stint of mild weather during the 2010 Olympics, but the 15.3 degrees in 1981 is still the record.
Top weather story of the 1990s — The blizzard of 1996
December was already a cold and snowy month with three to four times more snow compared to average.
But to everyone’s surprise, the worst had yet to come. On Dec. 29, right in the middle of the holiday season, a snowstorm unlike any the region had seen before arrived, burying it with record-breaking snowfall.
Sixty-five centimeters of snow fell in Victoria in one day. That’s five times the monthly average, and the most snow the city has ever seen in a 24 hour period.
The city came to a complete standstill as cars and homes were covered in more than two feet of snow overnight.
For days after, sidewalks remained buried and pedestrians shared the roads with vehicles — but there was plenty for the kids to play with.
In Vancouver, a record breaking 41 centimetres of snow fell. Highway 1 was shut down, the airport was closed and transit was paralyzed. A Canucks game was even cancelled.
And out in the Fraser Valley, the snowstorm lasted for two days. Eighty-one centimetres fell in total.
Fierce winds and blowing snow stranded motorists for kilometers. Some were stuck in their vehicles for up to 17 hours. Thankfully, some homes along the highway took stranded travels in.
Top weather story of the 2000s — The Stanley Park windstorm
The storm hit in the early morning hours of Dec. 15 2006.
In an unprecedented event, it was the third storm with wind over 100 km/h to hit the South Coast in just five days.
The region was already trying to recover when the last and strongest blast slammed into the coast.
This storm produced wind gusts to 158 km/h off the coast of Victoria.
There was damage on many parts of the island, but the most significant impact was felt in Vancouver’s crown jewel.
Stanley Park endured ferocious winds, with estimated gusts up to 120 km/h for more than three hours.
This was a straight on blow from the west with Category 1 hurricane strength and the damage was horrendous.
More than 10,000 trees were either uprooted or broken like matchsticks. One section of the park was completely unrecognizable.
Power lines were everywhere, transformers had blown, there were mud slides and extensive damage along the seawall.
It took crews months to clean it all up, and the event led to $100 million dollars in damage around the city. It would take $9 million to restore the park.
In the days and weeks after, there was a huge outpouring of support.
Global BC employees, Coast Capital Savings and Jim Pattison put on a telethon to help raise money and thanks to our generous viewers, we contributed $2.7 million to the restoration effort.
There was also some good that came out this windstorm. For the first time in over century there were gaps in the forest canopy, and now a bit of a view.
But more importantly, experts say the downed trees allowed for much needed renewal from an ecological standpoint.
If you’re wondering if we could see a storm like that again, the short answer is yes. We tend to get large windstorms every few decades.
For those who remember, Stanley Park was also severely damaged by the remnants of Typhoon Freda in 1962.
Top weather story of the 2010s — The 2017 wildfire season
The 2017 B.C. wildfire season was the longest and most costly wildfire season in the province’s history.
Some experts say it started in the spring, when B.C. had well above average rainfall which produced an increase in small vegetation, which then became kindling for the fires.
But it was really the month of June that set the stage.
June’s rain is incredibly important for providing much needed moisture — but in 2017, the province got very little. Both Kamloops and Kelowna experienced the third driest June on record.
Then, in early July, the province endured widespread thunderstorms, and with them tens of thousands of lightning strikes and gusty winds — but barely any rain.
That sparked 190 wildfires and by July 7, firefighters knew the province was in trouble.
A province-wide state of emergency was issued, the longest in B.C. history, lasting until Sept. 15.
Although the number of new fires waned after early July, the situation remained dire as the dry weather continued.
Both Kamloops and Kelowna experienced the driest July and August on record. Kelowna received less than one millimeter of rain all summer.
It wasn’t until fall that the weather conditions began to improve.
In total, 65,000 people were displaced and two million hectares were burned (a record, at the time, and 10 times the seasonal average).
It is still the most costly wildfire season in B.C., at over $649 million.
I would be remiss to not mention that climate change played a role in this devastating wildfire season.
Science has long anticipated and linked the increase extreme weather events like this to our warming planet.