British Columbia

Here are the top 5 B.C. weather stories of 2018

From record fires to record floods, B.C. saw a repeat of extreme 2017 weather events.

It was a repeat year ... and not in a good way

CBC's maps contain updated information about the size and locations of significant wildfires throughout B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A historic fire season, devastating spring floods and crippling ice in Metro Vancouver. If these sound like the weather headlines from the past pear — well they were pretty much able to be copied and pasted them from the 2017 weather roundup.

1. The worst wildfire season on record for B.C.

In late August, it became official: wildfires had burned more than 12,984 square kilometres of the province, pushing past the previous record set just one year earlier.

There are an estimated 600 wildfires burning across B.C. including this one near the Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort near Tweedsmuir. (Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort)

​2. Devastating spring flooding

Thousands of British Columbians were forced from their homes by what some officials called a once-in-200-year flood.
Hit particularly hard was Grand Forks, where the military was called in to help try and save historic downtown businesses, many of which are still closed to this day.

Flooding in the north of Rock Creek in the Boundary region of B.C.'s Southern Interior. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

3. Ice storm spillover

While 2016 and 2017 were arguably much snowier than 2018, a December ice storm in the Fraser Valley lingered well into the new year, keeping schools and businesses closed. 

A truck goes off the road on Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack, B.C. during the December 2017 ice storm. (Spencer Harwood/CBC)

4. Summer of smoke Part 2

British Columbia was once again under a blanket of smoke for much of the summer, trapped in place by the same oppressive high pressure systems that kept fire conditions hot and dry. 

Verne Tom photographs a wildfire burning along a logging road approximately 20 kilometres southwest of Fort St. James, B.C., on Aug. 15. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

5. Son of the blob?

Just as we thought we were pulling away from our scorcher of a summer, the unseasonable heat once again caused a large area of the Pacific Ocean to heat up, emulating a phenomenon from past years called the "blob."

This time, drought conditions across parts of Central and Northern B.C. can be linked to the "return of the blob", but scientists are hoping that a series of late fall storms have helped churn up cooler water. 

This Oct. 17, 2018 image from Environment and Climate Change Canada shows anomalies in sea surface temperature. Yellow, orange and red areas, like the large patch off the B.C. coast, are warmer than normal. (weather.gc.ca)

Several factors to blame

The culprit behind the back-to back bad years?

One factor was a lingering La Nina that lasted through 2017 and into 2018. El Niño's little sister — an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon associated with cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean — changes weather patterns all over the world.

For the west coast of Canada, that often means cooler winters and more snow in the south.

A lingering La Nina lasting through 2017 into 2018 led to cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that typically result in cooler winters and more snow. (CBC)

But as was the case last year, the record snow levels late in the season in the southern Interior, led to record melt when our now-typical high pressure scorchers set up in early spring.

And it was that same high pressure system that stuck around to lead to bone-dry conditions and a cycle of record heat, followed by dry lightning and strong winds — a worst-case scenario for wildfires.

And once again, the climate change conversation was front and centre. 

As we head into a building El Niño​ — the chances of a repeat winter are low. But with signs of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures, and a low snow pack in the north — we will anxiously await what the summer of 2019 brings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Johanna Wagstaffe

Senior Meteorologist

Johanna Wagstaffe is a senior meteorologist for CBC, covering weather and science stories, with a background in seismology and earth science. Her weekly segment, Science Smart, answers viewers' science-related questions.

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