If you were like me, last Monday, Nov. 15 you were watching the weather events unfolding on the Lower Mainland and south of us in Cowichan and the Malahat highway, waiting for the proverbial second shoe to drop here at home.
It was a deadline morning, and I was poised to have to cover flooding and other storm damage, but other than some heavy rain at times, the atmospheric river that ravaged a lot of southwestern British Columbia missed us.
The irony did not escape me: Port Alberni is notorious for having to deal with southeasters funneling up the Alberni Inlet, and king tides coupled with heavy rain causing localized flooding in low-lying areas of the city.
What did escape me, though, was the date: Nov. 15 was the exact day 15 years ago that the big storm hit Port Alberni.
It underlines the fact that we got lucky with the Nov. 15, 2021 atmospheric river (an intense storm with lots of moisture behind it).
Back in 2006 “the ‘river’ was pointed quite squarely at us,” says Chris Alemany, the weather enthusiast behind AlberniWeather.ca. It was he who reminded me of the anniversary of that storm.
We were getting 40 to 80 millimetres of rain per day in early November 2006, and were hit with strong winds three times in the first two weeks of the month. Alemany keeps track of weather records and trends with his home weather station in the heart of Port Alberni. He recently wrote a blog post about the storm.
“I remember my basement flooded, twice,” he wrote.
In contrast, Environment Canada’s weather station at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport only recorded between 30-40 mm of rain on Nov. 15, 2021, he said. An atmospheric river is usually a narrow band of weather, and this time it stayed south of us for some unknown reason.
Alemany had only set up his home weather station in November 2005, but said the 2006 storm was possibly the worst the Alberni Valley had experienced since the March 1964 tsunami. The lower part of Third and Fourth avenues flooded with several feet of water: it was a bit horrifying to go back through the photos we took that day to see exactly how much water inundated the neighbourhood. At the time, our office was located at Sixth Avenue and Roger Street, in the same commercial strip as where Pizza Factory is now. Many of our staff were stranded at the office.
Since we moved into our new location a year ago, at Napier Street and Fourth Avenue, we are located in the area where the flooding took place.
Alemany said the winter of 2006 was particularly nasty, with a series of storms happening in early December as well. We’re starting to see extreme weather events more frequently here, and he attributes that to climate change.
The December 20, 2019 wind event that caused so much damage along Highway 4 —including cyclical patterns of downed trees on a hillside that reminded people of a tornado—didn’t hit with the same ferocity inside city limits as in 2006, and we were lucky then too.
“That (2006) was still the strongest wind I’ve ever recorded at my weather station,” he said. “My station recorded a gust of 103 kmh. I actually remember it being over 110 kmh on the gauge.”
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.