With 2020 almost in the rearview mirror, Global BC is looking back at the top news stories of the year.
As is often the case, Mother Nature made headlines with major fires and floods as well as some more unusual impacts.
Here’s a look at some of the more memorable British Columbia weather stories of 2020.
2020 saw significant landslides open and the close the year, with events in both the second and second-to-last month of the year.
At the end of November, a huge slide came down in a remote inlet on B.C.’s central coast caused a shock that was equivalent to a 4.9-magnitude earthquake, according to experts.
Part of the mountainside came down at Elliot Creek, just east of the head of Bute Inlet north of Powell River, sending debris into an already swollen glacial lake, creating a wave 70 to 110 metres high.
It’s still unclear what triggered the slide, as there wasn’t much rain in the area at the time.
Back in February rain walloped the South Coast, prompting local states of emergency in the District of Kent in the Fraser Valley and the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.
Evacuation notices were issued in parts of the Fraser Valley and near the Nanaimo River, while an alert was issued in Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast.
There were also multiple mud and landslides, the most serious of which washed out roads and trapped hundreds of people at the Sasquatch Mountain Resort near Agassiz.
Repairing the road took days, and crews had to use helicopters to airlift people from the resort.
The heavy rains also caused two mudslides along the Crescent Beach bluff in South Surrey, stalling freight and Amtrak rail service.
Torrents of debris also knocked out phone service in a number of areas of the province.
January snow storm
Few things can paralyze the Lower Mainland like a winter snowstorm.
In mid-January, the south coast was hit with a large dump (by Vancouver standards, that is) over several days.
Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood saw as much as 14 cm, while parts of Vancouver Island saw almost a foot.
In typical fashion, the storm snarled traffic in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley and prompted multiple school closures.
The inclement weather also revived the now-perennial “ice bomb” issue on the Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges, with snow and ice falling from the spans’ cable stays onto cars below.
ICBC said it received at least 88 claims for vehicles damaged by ice bombs on the Port Mann alone, along with 50 on the Alex Fraser and three on the Golden Ears Bridge.
Of course, it wasn’t all misery.
There were plenty of snow-day sillies, like commuters using bike lanes to cross-country ski to work and a unicorn out shoveling their driveway.
A quiet earth
This story might not quite be weather-related, but it’s close enough.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced people all over the world, including here in B.C., to shut themselves in their homes in March and April in a bid to slow the spread.
With cars parked and planes grounded, the earth fell unusually quiet for a few weeks.
Scientists who study earthquakes got a rare window into nature without the background noise.
In some densely populated areas of the world, where it’s usually more challenging to isolate seismographs, “seismic noise” dropped by as much as 50 per cent — similar to the effect on Christmas Day.
In B.C., scientists were also granted a rare opportunity to study the region’s volcanoes with equipment picking up sensitive vibrations usually covered up by human activity.
The change wasn’t just on land. With marine traffic at a virtual standstill, the oceans quieted too.
Researchers got an unprecedented chance to use a network of submarine hydrophones off B.C.’s coast to study endangered southern resident killer whales, who are believed to be heavily impacted by marine noise.
One weather phenomenon that B.C. is not particularly famous for made at least two appearances this year.
In May, a resident in Saanich on Vancouver Island managed to capture a small tornado tearing past their property on a security camera.
Environment Canada identified the phenomenon as a “weak, short-lived EF0 tornado.”
As the camera rolled, the vortex even flung a neighbour’s trampoline down the street.
In September, another tiny twister touched down in northeastern B.C. in Fort St. John.
Witnesses reported trees being blown sideways, shingles being ripped from roofs, and fences flattened.
Environment Canada later confirmed that the storm included another EF0 tornado.
Smoke and haze define 2020 wildfire season
It wouldn’t be a regular summer in B.C. without a wildfire season, though the province escaped the devastating impacts seen in 2017 and 2018.
Several major fires still led to evacuations, most notably the Christie Mountain fire near Penticton, which broke out mid-August.
More than 300 homes were evacuated due to the blaze, which grew to more than 2,100 hectares in size.
Other notable fires broke out near Cranbook and Castlegar.
The province’s big wildfire story of 2020 was actually a result of fires burning along the U.S. west coast.
Those massive infernos and travelling smoke resulted in a long stretch of poor air quality in British Columbia starting in August, with more than two-thirds of the province under advisories for a time.
Air quality in the Vancouver area was rated the worst in the world at one point in September, with the Air Quality Health Index topping 10+, or “very high risk,” for several days.
The smoke took on a particular importance in 2020, with health experts warning of added risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another usual suspect on this year’s weather roundup was the spring flooding season.
In the end, concerns were unfounded that spring floodwaters may meet or exceed those of the historic 2018 flood season that forced thousands from their homes and caused millions of dollars in damage.
Still, parts of the Central Kootenay region were placed on an “unprecedented” evacuation alert in May, and communities around Salmo and the Slocan Valley were evacuated due to rising water levels.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary subsequently issued an evacuation order for some 400 people, while thousands more were placed on evacuation alert. The Similkameen community of Cawston declared a local state of emergency.
Evacuation alerts were also issued in the Fraser Valley in early June.
The long flood season even saw evacuation orders and alerts in place as late as July 8, as Cache Creek dealt with rising waters in the Bonaparte River.