Monday, August 3, 2009

Prepare Yourself: “Shocking Weather Has Just Begun”…

That was the clever headline the Vancouver Sun chose for its front page Monday, July 27th final edition after a spectacular lightning storm held our attention practically all night and almost stole the show at the annual summer Vancouver fireworks. I don’t normally read the newspaper (shocking?), preferring to let the REAL news percolate to my attention via alternate, often more reliable and objective means. But the headline picture of a lightning strike that spanned the entire horizon of Vancouver’s night sky caught my attention and took me back to last Saturday.
According to Vancouver Sun’s Rebecca Tebrake, Environment Canada recorded over 1,000 lightning strikes last Saturday in British Columbia’s lower mainland. The storm failed to prevent Vancouver’s summer fireworks show from happening, though. In fact, the storm enhanced the show according to some who participated.

I was having supper with a friend from Ontario during an atypically muggy day when the storm blew in. We both laughed at the same thought: it was like we were back home where we grew up (I’m from Quebec on the eastern part of Canada), where the sudden drama of thunder and lightning are a common occurrence. Storms in the northeast, where I’m from, take on similar characteristics and patterns as the Midwest, only less frequently and severely. Thunderstorms are not that common here on the west coast of Canada and the United States. When they do occur, they are usually mild and don’t come close to the dangerous thunderstorms that frequent the United States, particularly in the Midwest and the southern states, where they can rouse up a pelting hail and powerful tornado.

This atypical thunderstorm swept in as part of a strong heat front pushing in from the eastern Interior instead of the typical moderate weather that comes from the west over the ocean. It sent several people to hospital from lightning strikes and caused over 100 forest fires in B.C. Usually, lightning storms from the east fizzle out by the time they get to the coast, says meteorologist Mark Madryga. But this one didn’t, marking it as a one-in-three year storm, according to Madryga. Well, I haven’t seen such a storm in the over 20 years I’ve lived in the lower mainland. It was impressive.

In the wake of the storm, “more weather-related chaos is in store,” warned Tebrake, “with temperatures expected to soar to 35ºC (95ºF) later in the week in Metro Vancouver.” That’s exactly what happened as temperatures rose to a blistering 40ºC (104 ºF) in parts of British Columbia and reaching their hottest ever recorded in Vancouver. “We’re looking at a once-in-a-lifetime heat wave,” Environment Canada meteorologist David Jones said “Five consecutive days with temperatures over 32 ºC (89.6 ºF)…That’s only happened three times since 1880.” The heat wave impacted human health, water and air quality, and caused a bazillion forest fires.
Now, I know you folks in the south-eastern and western states (where it can easily spike past 100 ºF—Pheonix Arizona experienced a scorching 112 ºF on Monday) and other countries like Saudi Arabia (where it climbs to 50 ºC or 122 ºF!) are going to chuckle at our cringing hearts and sweating brows, but Vancouverites just aren’t used to this! We’re melting! Meantime, to compensate for stealing Ontario’s and Quebec’s weather (muggy heat and lightning storms), we’ve given eastern Canada OUR weather of rain rain rain…flood…rain rain rain…
I’d love to hear your stories of freaky atypical weather over the years, particularly in recent years.

By the way, weather and climate are related; local weather over time defines climate. “Weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate, however, is the average of weather over time and space. An easy way to remember the difference is that climate is what you expect, like a very hot summer, and weather is what you get, like a hot day with pop-up thunderstorms,” says NASA. “When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. Today, children hear stories from their parents and grandparents about how snow was always piled up to their waists as they trudged off to school. Children today in most areas of the country haven't experienced those kinds of snow-packed winters, except for the Northeastern U.S. in January 2005. The change in recent winter snows indicate that the climate has changed since their parents were young. If summers seem hotter lately, then the recent climate may have changed. In various parts of the world, some people have even noticed that springtime comes earlier now than it did 30 years ago. An earlier springtime is indicative of a possible change in the climate.”

Anatomy of Thunderstorms and Related Stuff

All thunderstorms go through three stages: the cumulus stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage. Depending on atmospheric conditions, these three stages can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to occur.

There are four main types of thunderstorms: single cell, multicell, squall line (also called multicell line) and supercell. Which type you get depends on the instability and relative wind conditions in the atmosphere’s different layers (called "wind shear"). Single cell storms are the typical summer thunderstorm we experience in temperate locales. They typically move, being a function of a local atmospheric instability.

Multi cell storms can form clusters or “squall lines” (organized line of storms). They tend to form from convective updrafts in or near mountain ranges and linear weather boundaries, usually strong cold fronts or troughs of low pressure. Multicell line storms can span hundreds of miles. They move swiftly, and are preceded by a gust front. Heavy rain, hail, lightning, very strong winds and even isolated tornadoes can occur in a squall line. I recall the stunning sight from the air of one of these as I flew home from New York recently. The plane skirted alongside the booming line of clouds that towered like giant columns of black smoke – only to flicker and light up like Japanese lanterns.

Canadians define a severe thunderstorm as either having tornadoes, wind gusts of 90 km/h or greater, hail of 2 centimetres in diameter or greater, a rainfall rate greater than 50 millimetres in 1 hour or 75 millimetres in 3 hours.

Western Canadians and western Americans are definitely nubies when it comes to severe thunderstorms. We just don’t hold a candle to the folks used to severe storms, hailstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes out east and in the south. So…in preparation for changes to come, I consulted the experts from a state I know is weather-prepared (because I drove through it several times and experienced a few severe storms there too!): Kentucky. Here’s what the experts at the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management and Kentucky Weather Preparedness Committee say about storms, lightning and being prepared:

Weather experts normally consider March through June as the Severe Weather season, especially in the mid-west. But as recent history has shown , severe weather (including tornados) can happen at any time of the year and at any time of the day or night. Preparedness and an emergency plan is the key to survival.

Flash Flooding Safety Rules

Flash floods and floods are the #1 storm related killer in Kentucky and across the United States.
If driving, DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH FLOODED AREAS! Even if it looks shallow enough to cross. The majority of deaths due to flooding are due to people driving through flooded areas. Water only one foot deep can displace 1,500 pounds! Two feet of water can easily carry most vehicles. Roadways concealed by floodwaters may not be intact.

If caught outside, go to higher ground immediately! Avoid small rivers or streams, low spots, culverts, or ravines. Do not try to walk through flowing water more than ankle deep, as it only takes six inches of water to knock you off your feet. Do not allow children to play around streams, drainage ditches, or viaducts, storm drains, or other flooded areas.
If ordered to evacuate or if rising water is threatening, leave immediately and get to higher ground.

Lightning Safety Rules

Lightning is the number two storm related killer. In Kentucky, more people are killed by lightning in an average year than tornadoes. Although severe thunderstorm warnings are NOT issued for lightning, you should move to shelter when thunder is heard as lightning can strike 10 to 15 miles away from where the rain is falling.

If outside, go to a safe shelter immediately, such as inside a sturdy building. A hard top automobile with the windows up can also offer fair protection.
If you are boating or swimming, get out of the water immediately and move to a safe shelter away from the water!

If you are in the wooded area, seek shelter under a thick growth of relatively small trees.
If you feel your hair standing on end, squat with your head between your knees. Do not lie flat!
Avoid: Isolated trees or other tall objects, bodies of water, sheds, fences, convertible automobiles, tractors, and motorcycles.
If inside, avoid using the telephone (except for emergencies) or other electrical appliances.
Do not take a bath or shower during a thunderstorm.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Incredible thunderstorms in the US were shown on British news. I've never seen them like that. I think they were in New York.

Anonymous said...

Oh Nina,

You have been spoiled by living on the Fraser River Delta all these years. Living with a wide screen ANV of the mountains I would agree with Madryga's reporting of thunderstorms in the Metro Vancouver area.
Pre-Brie, I would experience many exciting Lighting events during the summer. One event decimated a large tree in Vancouver - intense heat of the lighting bolt, superheated the moisture in the tree then BOOM.

As a child born in the late 50's, I have experienced the heavy snowfalls, severe fogs and summer storms and the summer heat. Visiting family in the praries always included a few "light shows" (thankfully in the distance).

I am going to postulate (leave it to others to research and rebutt as needed) that a lot of the weather is related to particulates in the local atmosphere.

In the 50's and 60's the Vancouver area was home to many sawmills. To get rid of the sawdust, they used behive burners. Most homes in those days were heated with Oil (much like the North East areas of NA). Snow flakes form around a dust speck. Fog forms around particulates.

In the 70's most homes in the Fraser River basin area switched over to natural gas and the behive burners were long gone. Along with it the fog and heavy snowfalls.

As you pointed out, the wind patterns have shifted. The air is becoming still here, pollution (and related particulates) increases thus return to lighting, hot days and heavy snows.

Btw: ANV - Analogue Natural View (aka a big picture window).


Re: the News

A very interesting article in our Local paper: Bob Groeneveld, editor of the Langley Advance offered an editorial with the headline "The reality of citizen journalism".

While it is fun and somewhat useful to be able to customize your news feeds and monitor what your web friends blog about, there is still a lot to be said about taking the time to flip through a paper or a news site prepared by professional journalists. I trust you know about the HST coming to BC in mid 2010. It has been in the papers and on the radio.

One must be careful not to gaze so intently upon ones navel that they fail to notice house collapsing around them. Don't miss/diss the options and don't confuse market pressure with relevance even though they are highly intertwined. :-)

la Grande Frommage

SF Girl said...

Neat, Jean-Luc. I must google that...

I always love your comments, Limberger... yes, I am spoiled living here on the Fraser River Delta...Great points about the particulates. I am sure they influence the local weather.

Re "grazing" the various news feed options ... seems that we are somehow back to "screening" with all this... HAR!

SF Girl said...

It's hard not to take notice of some interesting record weather patterns this past month... record heat all along the west coast of North America... atypical flooding and rain storms in southern Ontario, particularly in the Hamilton area... a record 6 inches of rain in one hour in Louisville, Kentucky last Tuesday...

voicunike said...

Buna Nina! sunt un mare fan sf&f din Romania si vreau sa te intreb unde ai aparut la noi,in ce publicatii? citesc si am citit orice este sf romanesc,ma poti ajuta?please! :)

SF Girl said...

Hi, Voicunike! :) Eu numai vorbesc pucin Romaneste... :( ... But to answer your question about getting published in Romania? Or where I've been published?...

I served as assistant Editor-in-Chief of the English Ezine, Imagikon (now archived by SF Online)... you can google it. There are several ezines that publish in Romanian (with some English)... Here is one:

voicunike said...

Thanks,many thanks! When will you published your book in Romania? I will loved to read in romanian language your novel and story! god help us! Spor la scris si multe urari de bine! ai mai cistigat inca un fan!

SF Girl said...

LOL! Thank you Voicunike... I need to talk to my publisher about publishing my books in Romanian! :)

voicunike said...

Hi Nina

I found also fans Sf&f wich wishes to read your books in romanian language,i told us of your novel and they have been awesome! Thanks to the god because i found you to internet,in that this way you find out many friends and fans!
I hope to hear good news! :)

Murray Elliot Breen aka 'surf-the-arts' said...

Three weather stories:
*In the Okanagan Valley all we've had is fires! A thunderstorm - no, but a little rain would be nice.
*I lived in Hawaii from 1995 - 2007 - they do not have thunderstorms or lightning there. If they do it is very unusual. They're too close to the equator - no cold air to mix with the warm. *In the eighties I took a commuter train from Toronto, north to Newmarket. Half way there the train started shaking from the wind and it got very black outside. Passengers who continued north to their homes on the south end of Barrie found their subdivision flattened by a rare tornado.

SF Girl said...

Toronto was recently inundated with tornadoes, rainstorms and thunderstorms that messed up flights going to and from it. I got caught in them on my way to Montreal to go to World Con... Got through though...

SF Girl said...

Voicunike, thank you for finding readers for Darwin! Now I REALLY NEED to recommend that my publisher get it translated and distributed in Romania!!!

It would help if people sent letters to the Publisher asking them to:

either Dragon Moon Press (email; or via facebook at


Hades Publications (Edge Publishing): email or; phone -- (403) 254-0160

Good luck! :-D