Thunderbolts and Lightning

On Sunday night we had a rare sight for southern Vancouver Island: a lightning show after a day with record-breaking high temperatures. It started out with just intermittent flashes, which I first thought were from the TV show I was watching, then realized they were coming from outside. An hour later the thunder arrived, sounding like massive rocks rolling in the bottom of a large river. In between I heard a screech owl, hoo-hoo-ing from one of the trees near the house, and hoped it was catching rabbits in the yard.

It wasn’t technically a dry lightning storm, but there was very little rain and plenty of land strikes: up to 1600 lighting strikes on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and parts of the Lower Mainland. Several of them were in our area, around Shawnigan Lake and the Sooke Lake Reservoir. The latter is particularly important as it supplies drinking water for the City of Victoria.

This led to wildfires, about seven in our region. All are relatively small, with the biggest one at about 8 ha, but five are classified as out of control.

The wildfire situation created an exciting afternoon on Monday, as single prop float plane water bombers filled up their pontoons on Shawnigan Lake, screamed low over our house trailing water behind them, then took an abrupt west turn to get to the fires. Sometimes you could feel a fine mist settle on your arms as they flew over, from water flowing off the pontoons. Six float planes worked for over four hours to douse the blazes, scooping 800 gallons of water at a time from the lake and dumping it on the fires.

On Tuesday the wildfire air traffic was limited to choppers long-lining fire retardant into the wildfire area throughout the day.

While the wildfire danger is high to extreme across the southern part of the province, including Vancouver Island, this year’s wildfire season has been reasonably low key.


The map of provincial wildfires shows they are mostly concentrated in southern BC and there are no wildfires of note – though there are fires that remain out of control (red circles).

Red circles are fires out of control, yellow circles are fires being held, orange triangles are new fires, green circles are fires under control.

We had a wet spring this year which likely reduced the wildfire hazard, and have only had the hot summer temperatures we’re used to in the past couple of weeks. All in all it’s been a relatively mild summer, with just a couple of heat waves since the end of June.

The milder summer has also been good for streamflow in the Cowichan River – this year we likely won’t have to pump water from Cowichan Lake into the river, as there’s enough flow for the salmon to return this fall. This is the first year since we’ve lived here that we haven’t had severe drought, which is a nice break from normal.

BC Drought Map – green is normal, yellow is dry.

Weather can be so exciting, from watching and listening to a thunderstorm, to watching the water bombers work to put out the resulting wildfires. And great to know that we’re not staggering into autumn on the heels of a severe drought, that the river has sufficient flow for fish, and that there’s rain predicted for the end of the week.

Note: Of course as soon as I say the wildfire season has been mild, we get a wildfire near OK Falls in the Okanagan with residents being evacuated.

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