2014's weather was even weirder than 2021's, in this coastal BC town

·5 min read

It was a stormy October night in 2014, when a massive flash flood raged over the Tla’amin salmon hatchery.

Logs, leaves and mud clogged the hatchery river fencing. The river overflowed into the protected area. “It was actually very similar to the downpour we received just a few weeks ago,” says Scott Galligos, a Tla’amin hatchery technician. “The flood itself lasted just about 48 hours. There was a lot of salmon escapement.”

So many salmon escaped, in fact, that the hatchery couldn’t take eggs that year to enhance the populations of chum, coho, chinook and pink. “Salmon are on a four to five year cycle, so the impact on their numbers would have been noticeable in 2019,” says Scott.

Indeed, 2019 was the worst year of salmon returns, according to hatchery manager Lee George, who had said that they were the lowest chum salmon numbers the hatchery had ever seen.

The amount of damage, clean-up time and repairs from the flood would have been in the tens-of-thousands of dollars, making it difficult to even estimate a total cost amount, explains Scott.

We had, and still have, a very brave, dedicated crew.”

The hatchery is located in an area with very steep terrain, and the river is fed by a lake. When it reaches above one meter it is considered a flood; the hatchery usually has about three floods each fall and winter. “However, the 2014 flood was something I’ve never seen before,” said Scott.

Weather-wise in BC, 2021 was similar to 2014. Both years featured wildfires, droughts, heat domes, torrential downpours, and floods. In fact, 2014 hit qathet much worse than 2021 did.

The storm on October 21 and 22, 2014 brought about 100mm of rain; the average rainfall for the entire month of October is 185mm. The October storm caused Tla’amin’s hatchery flood– the only weather event to ever damage Tla’amin infrastructure, besides the wildfire of 1918, which burned down the entire village.

The second terrible storm from 2014 took place in the beginning of December. qathet was met with rainfalls of 202mm in just a week. The average amount of rain qathet receives throughout the entire month of December is about 146mm.

The December storm led to six different landslides south of town, and one disastrous landslide that occurred north of town near Atrevida Road, cluttering the area with debris of logs, rocks and mud. The landslide also damaged homes. This storm caused issues in many areas of qathet with drainage and sewer systems; Cranberry was reported to have had multiple drainage problems, due to an overloaded system.

Besides the flood damage 2014 did locally, the entire province entered a heat dome, which created BC’s third hottest summer on record, leading to one of the worst wildfire seasons that British Columbia had yet to face, with around 370,000 hectares of land burned. The storms that occurred in October and December had an impact on other areas too.

Comox and Port Alberni also suffered substantial weather damage. Courtenay and Delta even declared local states of emergency.

The instances from 2014 and 2021, demonstrate single weather events becoming more severe, impacting one another, making incidents like wildfires and floods much more extreme.

When intense heat is mixed with a drought, it makes the wildfire season worse.

When burned land is met with a sudden downpour of rain, more floods and landslides occur.

In 2014, qathet had a very dry summer, with little rain, until October, when it was hit with an overwhelming downpour, adding severity to the hatchery flood.

While 2014 mirrors what happened in 2021, 2014’s severe weather was less intense than the severe weather the entire province has been met with in recent years. And yet, the 2014 events affected qathet much more than 2021 when looking at damage caused.

Provincially, 2021 was a disastrous year of weather – hitting BC with much more than just wildfires and torrential rain. The powerful heat dome scorched the province through June, July and August, as droughts became worse, making the fires stronger and easier to start. Wildfires struck BC much earlier than the usual fire season and lasted much longer. Over 860,000 hectares burned. British Columbia was smoked out, Kelowna recorded its worst air quality ever. However, the wildfires weren’t alone.

qathet saw not one, but two rare waterspouts of notable size in front of Harwood Island during the summer. Although there nothing was damaged by these, it is very rare to see a weather event occur like that in June.

The fall came and Vancouver was met with an unusual tornado that touched down at both UBC and an airport.

This led into the atmospheric river drenching the south coast, leaving many towns and cities throughout the province flooded, and damaging every highway into and out of Vancouver. Days later, Merritt, still suffering from flooding, received snow and freezing temperatures.

Luckily, the Tla’amin salmon hatchery was prepared for 2021’s storms.

“This year the fence repairs had just been completed, from the 2014 flood,” Scott says. “The team had been very concerned about flooding this year.

“The crew had been very proactive; the stock board was removed, and two hour shifts were taken on by the crew for two weeks, all throughout the day and night, babysitting the fence. They even went into the roaring river to clean it if needed,” says Scott.

Despite all of these severe weather events, 2021 has not been the worst year for weather; in fact it wasn’t even BC’s worst year for forest fires, despite how much it felt like it was. The worst wildfire season was in 2017. 2021 was the third worst year for wildfires, which took 2014’s place, when looking at the past 10 years.

Abby Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, qathet Living

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting