Damaging storms, damp spring and dry fall: Another year of B.C. weather extremes

A portion of the Stanley Park seawall is seen badly damaged on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, after a massive storm and king tide battered the shores in Vancouver. Courtesy: Bernie Steininger

It’s a rare year when weather doesn’t make headlines in British Columbia, and 2022 was no exception.

While the province didn’t see the once-in-a-generation-type disasters of 2021 — chiefly the heat dome and the November flooding — it did see atypical weather patterns in the spring and fall that delivered rare events such as November wildfires.

Once again, B.C. was subject to damaging windstorms this year.

And a year wouldn’t be complete in Metro Vancouver without chaos on the roads amid a snowstorm.

Here’s a look at some ways the weather made the news in 2022.

Holiday storm chaos

Just as residents of southern British Columbia were getting ready to take a break and visit family for the holidays, Mother Nature intervened with a string of punishing winter storms.

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The trouble began the night of Monday, Dec. 19, as heavy snow began to fall across B.C.’s South Coast.

Read more: ‘Colossal mishap’: Passengers describe sitting on planes at Vancouver airport for hours amid snowstorm

As usual, the snow led to problems on the region’s roads, and prompted ferry cancellations because passengers and crew couldn’t get to terminals.

But the real chaos was at the Vancouver International Airport, where delays and cancellations quickly multiplied into the hundreds, resulting in congestion both on the airfield and in the terminal.

A number of passengers were left stuck in their aircraft on the apron, some reporting being trapped in their seats for as long as 12 hours.

Click to play video: 'Stranded at YVR this Christmas'
Stranded at YVR this Christmas

The airport temporary implemented a “ground stop,” meaning that no more Vancouver-bound flights were cleared to depart, though planes still in the air were allowed to finish their journey.

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Even once that was lifted, it retained a 48-hour freeze on incoming international flights to help clear backlogs.

Read more: CEO pledges Vancouver airport ready for next storm, passengers won’t get stuck on planes

The problems came at the worst possible time, during a week when the airport expected to move more than 60,000 passengers per day, and while flights had mostly resumed by Dec. 24, some travellers found themselves spending Christmas at the airport. The facility continues to deal with the resulting ripple effects to flight schedules.

Airport officials later pinned the problems on three times as much snow falling at YVR as forecast, and snow piling up on aircraft wings faster than they could be de-iced.

Click to play video: 'YVR chief executive vows airport will be ready for coming storm'
YVR chief executive vows airport will be ready for coming storm

But the problems at the airport were just the start.

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The major snowfall was followed by several days of intense sub-zero temperatures as an arctic outflow descended on the province.

Read more: Homeowners grapple with burst pipes as cold wreaks havoc on Lower Mainland

Parts of the interior saw temperatures fall as low as -41 C with wind chill values near -47, while the South Coast saw the mercury dip as low as -14 C.

That raised safety concerns for the homeless, and resulted in water damage for businesses, schools and residents as pipes froze and burst.

The next wave of stormy weather rolled in on Thursday Dec. 23, bringing another round of snow followed by freezing rain and rain.

Click to play video: 'Province asks Lower Mainland drivers to avoid travel on Friday'
Province asks Lower Mainland drivers to avoid travel on Friday

Ahead of the weather system, the provincial government warned of risks on the roads and urged people not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

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The storm delivered as expected, forcing ferry cancellations, causing trouble for TransLink and BC Transit, knocking out power, and prompting the closure of the key Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges for hours on Friday.

It also caused major problems and led to closures on highways in the Interior and Vancouver Island.

Adverse conditions continued into Christmas Eve, with heavy rain beginning on the South Coast and freezing rain, ice pellets and avalanche risks affecting interior highways.

Click to play video: 'Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges shut down due to poor driving conditions'
Port Mann and Alex Fraser bridges shut down due to poor driving conditions

Tragically, amid those wintry conditions, a commercial Ebus carrying 45 passengers flipped on the Okanagan Connector Christmas Eve, killing four and sending dozens to hospital.

Read more: B.C. South Coast gets snow, freezing rain and an atmospheric river is on the way

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As warmer, wetter air blew in the concern shifted from snow and ice to flooding.

Click to play video: 'Bus crash victim leaves behind young family'
Bus crash victim leaves behind young family

Flooding from the Chemainus river led to closed roads and damaged homes.

And in the Lower Mainland, alerts were issued in Vancouver and Delta and much of the south coast was placed under a flood watch amid possible coastal flooding due to a combination of king tides and storm surges on Tuesday and Wednesday.

While those conditions did deliver some dramatic visuals and pockets of flooding in low-lying areas in the city and Squamish, the region mostly managed to escape without serious damage.

Click to play video: 'No major flood damage on B.C. South Coast following king tide'
No major flood damage on B.C. South Coast following king tide


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The snowstorm traffic jam

Click to play video: 'Compilation of videos shows how slippery and dangerous the roads were in Metro Vancouver'
Compilation of videos shows how slippery and dangerous the roads were in Metro Vancouver

It wasn’t the biggest snow event Metro Vancouver has ever seen. It wasn’t an unforeseen event either.

But the result of about a foot of snow falling during the afternoon rush hour on Tuesday, Nov. 29 was unprecedented.

Read more: ‘We cannot handle it’ — Drivers trapped, cars abandoned as snow falls on B.C.’s roads

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As the snow rapidly accumulated, cars, trucks and articulated buses spun out on key major routes, including the Alex Fraser Bridge and several main highways.

The ensuing gridlock left some people trapped in their vehicles into the early morning hours of Wednesday, while others reported commutes home as long as 12 hours.

Click to play video: '‘I was stuck in my car (for) more than 8.5 hours’: Snowstorm screeches Metro Vancouver to a halt'
‘I was stuck in my car (for) more than 8.5 hours’: Snowstorm screeches Metro Vancouver to a halt

Who was responsible for the meltdown? It depends on who you ask. Some critics have pointed at drivers without winter tires, while the mayor of Delta says he wants the province to review its agreement with Mainroad Group, the company charged with clearing and maintaining highways.

The province, meanwhile, says the congestion itself on the roads prevented tow trucks and snow plows from clearing the routes.

In the wake of the chaos, some Metro Vancouver councillors have called for a “snow summit” to ensure the region is better prepared for future snow events.

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Read more: ICBC still processing collision claims from November’s paralyzing Metro Vancouver snowstorm

Amid the snowstorm there was plenty of chaos off the major routes as well, with video showing drivers slipping, sliding and crashing into one another. ICBC reported a 94 per cent surge in claims calls Tuesday night over the same day a week prior.

Despite the frigid traffic nightmare, there were also bright spots where locals stepped up to help. In New Westminster’s Queensborough neighbourhood, a local Sikh Gurdwara stepped up to offer food, hot tea and shelter to stranded drivers.

Chilly spring, late summer

Click to play video: 'B.C. officials say forecast predicts cool, wet start to summer'
B.C. officials say forecast predicts cool, wet start to summer

Did spring 2022 seem unusually long and cool to you? You’re not alone, and you’re not wrong.

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A La Niña weather pattern settled over British Columbia this year, bringing cold, wet and gloomy weather to the province through most of April and May, depriving residents of a sunny stretch for nearly two months.

Read more: Why has B.C.’s spring been so cold and wet?

For many regions, April was among the top 10 coldest on record, while Vancouver finished the month about 1.5 C cooler than average.

The cooler weather meant snowpack was slow to melt provincewide, raising significant concerns about a dangerous flood season.

Click to play video: 'B.C. farmers hit hard by unusually-cool spring'
B.C. farmers hit hard by unusually-cool spring

Thankfully, those fears did not play out, though amid heavy rain there were flood warnings across much of southern B.C. right into June.

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The cool weather also put pressure on farmers, who saw crops delayed due to the late arrival of summer heat.

The first blast of hot weather finally arrived in late June, but the real heat didn’t materialize until late July.

Read more: ‘Very stressful’ — Cold weather delays crops for many B.C. farmers, but no relief in sight

While B.C. didn’t see anything as extreme as the 2021 heat dome, numerous temperature records were broken in the final week of July and first week of August.

The BC Coroners Service later confirmed at least 19 heat-related deaths between July 21 and July 30, with another four recorded after Aug. 1.

Click to play video: 'Structures lost in rapidly growing Lytton wildfire'
Structures lost in rapidly growing Lytton wildfire

And subsequent review revealed that the province saw its hottest-ever August in 2022, with an average temperature of 20.3 C.

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Global BC senior meteorologist Kristi Gordon said Fort St John, Abbotsford, Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton all recorded their hottest months ever in August and dozens of regions across the province broke daily high temperatures in both July and August.

Read more: At least 6 homes lost as wildfire near Lytton, B.C. balloons to 1,500 hectares

The upshot of B.C.’s late summer was a delayed wildfire season, and while there were more fires in total in 2022 than in 2021 (1,771 compared to 1,642), the long, wet spring contributed in part to far fewer hectares being burned (134,992 hectares compared with 869,279).

Nonetheless, there were destructive fires, including a more than 2,000-hectare fire sparked near the community of Lytton, which has yet to be rebuilt after burning to the ground in 2021, and the more than 6,000-hectare Keremeos Creek fire that forced numerous evacuations in the communities around Keremeos and forced highway closures.

Autumn drought

Click to play video: 'British Columbia, the “wet” coast, ravaged by drought'
British Columbia, the “wet” coast, ravaged by drought

After B.C.’s late spring and summer, it was no surprise the province also faced a late fall, one that came with a rare autumn drought.

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The dry spell was already evident in August, when the Vancouver International Airport recorded only 3.6 millimetres of rain when typically an average of 36.7 millimetres would fall.

Several B.C. regions, including eastern Vancouver Island, western Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, all hit Drought Level 3 (of a possible 5) in August.

Read more: Most of B.C. is suffering conditions of drought, water scarcity, province says

By late September, it was evident the extended summer was here to stay. The province was hit with an unusual fall heat wave in the final week of the month, toppling temperature records in many areas, including Squamish and Port Alberni, where the mercury hit the high 20s, and Lytton, where the temperature topped 32 C.

October, too, was drier than usual, with zero (yes, zero) millimetres of rain falling between Oct. 1 and Oct. 20, when the province would typically see an average of 120.8 millimetres.

Mother Nature finally hit the “fall switch” on Oct. 21, and equipment at the Vancouver International Airport measured 70 per cent of the region’s average October rainfall in the subsequent 11 days.

Read more: How drought is taking its toll on Canada’s normally “wet” coast 

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By October, the Lower Mainland, the Sunshine Coast and western Vancouver Island hit Drought Level 5.

Click to play video: 'Non-essential water use ban goes into effect on the Sunshine Coast'
Non-essential water use ban goes into effect on the Sunshine Coast

The drought hit B.C.’s Sunshine Coast particularly hard, with the Sunshine Coast Regional District implementing a local state of emergency and strict water rationing.

The water order prevented people from filling pools and hot tubs, banned concrete and gravel companies from using water and forced local breweries to suspend production for several weeks.

The drought and late heat also produced a phenomenon rarely seen in B.C. — late-season wildfires.

Read more: Dry weather pushes B.C.’s wildfire season well into the fall

Fires continued to burn through September, with new blazes sparking up near Chilliwack in late September and in Coquitlam’s Minnekhada Regional Park in October.

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More fires popped up throughout October, including near Duncan, Grand Forks, Manning Park and the Okanagan.

Click to play video: 'Dry conditions spark wildfires and state of emergency in Fraser Valley'
Dry conditions spark wildfires and state of emergency in Fraser Valley

The resulting smoke prompted the BC Lung Foundation to issue a warning amid “never before seen October air quality.”

And that wasn’t the end. Incredibly, crews were called to battle two more wildfires near Aggasiz more than halfway through November.

Read more: ‘Hottest August’ leads to late wildfire season in the Okanagan

Seawall smashed

Click to play video: 'More extreme weather wreaks havoc in Metro Vancouver'
More extreme weather wreaks havoc in Metro Vancouver

As a coastal province, B.C. is no stranger to powerful windstorms.

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And compared to recent years — including the 2021 November storm that lodged a barge on the beach in English Bay or the 2018 storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands, some for more than a week, and smashed the White Rock Pier — 2022 was tame.

But the province didn’t dodge every bullet.

Read more: Powerful winds bring Metro Vancouver flooding, park closures and ferry cancellations

Jan. 7 saw powerful winds slam B.C.’s South Coast in combination with a king tide — flooding some coastal areas and prompting multiple ferry sailing cancellations.

Debris-laden storm surge smashed into Vancouver’s Stanley Park seawall, along with the Kitsilano Pool and the Jericho Pier, causing significant damage.

Click to play video: 'Experts warn seawall damage sign of things to come amid sea level rise and climate change'
Experts warn seawall damage sign of things to come amid sea level rise and climate change

The damage to the seawall was so extensive that repair work took months. The final section of the popular walking and cycling route didn’t reopen until April 27.

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“This storm was unlike anything we had seen before,” said Dave Hutch, director of park planning and park development for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, in a statement at the time.

Read more: Seawall damage a sign of things to come amid sea level rise and climate change, experts warn

The cost of repairs was estimated to be well over $1.5 million.

The storm also sparked conversations about the future of the seawall amid climate change, with the strength and frequency of winter storms only expected to grow.

“Climate change is making storm events like those in November 2021 and January 2022 more frequent and severe,” Hutch said in April.

“The Park Board will be initiating conversations with residents about how we should plan for this uncertain future and how our waterfront parks, the seawall and beaches will adapt to our changing climate.”

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