From unprecedented heat waves in the summer months to disastrous flooding in November, the weather in 2021 was a study in extremes throughout B.C., and the Cowichan Valley was no exception.
The heat wave in late June hit record temperatures throughout British Columbia, including a previously unseen high of 41.9 C in Duncan and an unofficial record of 43 C in Lake Cowichan.
Cooling centres opened at several locations throughout the Cowichan Valley to help residents escape the heat.
Similar conditions followed in July and August, although temperatures didn’t reach the same heights. The Cowichan Valley reached drought level 5 — the highest level possible — in late August as days stretched to months without rain.
The BC Coroners Service reported in November, that 48 people died due to extreme heat during the 2021 heat dome on Vancouver Island. The information was part of a provincewide report revealing the summer’s death toll for heat-related injuries.
Region-specific data for the heat dome that occurred from June 25 to July 1 was also included. By region, South and Central Vancouver Island recorded 20 deaths apiece, while North Vancouver Island counted eight. All victims were over 40, with 22 female and 26 male.
A total of 595 people died due to summer heat waves across B.C. The BC Coroners Service expects to complete individual investigations into each death by early 2022.
November was the same month that torrential rains caused havoc in the Cowichan region and provincewide. An atmospheric river passed over the island and across the province on Nov. 13-15. Roads, highways, businesses and homes were flooded and emergency crews were going non-stop.
A portion of Allenby Road was closed for several days and remains damaged and Canadian Forces personnel helped distribute sandbags to the hardest hit areas, particularly on Cowichan Tribes land.
In parts of the region, close to 180 mm of rain was dumped on Cowichan according to Chris Carss, a Chemainus weather observer who records data on a volunteer basis for Environment Canada.
Warning preparedness meteorologist Armel Castellan, of Environment and Climate Change Canada, said he doesn’t care for the term “new normal” because he thinks “it’s a little bit dangerous” to think that this is what it’s going to be like henceforth.
“We are starting to see a huge uptick but we might also be talking about these last five years as a walk in the park compared to what we’re facing a couple decades from now when this is routine. It’s hard to say ‘new normal’ because it’s not a step function. It’s really a moving target and one that’s increasing in amplitude,” he said.
Castallan said what the climate science says is that “we should expect events like this — atmospheric rivers and the heat wave of late June and other types of extremes — to be more frequent throughout the season and throughout the year, and to be longer lasting.”
In December, the Malahat region set both a record high temperature and a record low. On Dec. 1 the area reached 10.5 C, a new high, while on Dec. 26 the area hit -11.1 C, a new low.