Severe thunderstorm warning issued for parts of Vancouver Island

Severe thunderstorm warning issued for parts of Vancouver Island
Natasha Woo/submitted
Natasha Woo captured this lightning strike in Port McNeill on Aug. 28, 2023.

Environment Canada has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for parts of Vancouver Island.

The severe thunderstorm warning is in effect for Inland Vancouver Island 20 km southwest of Campbell River moving over Highway 28 near Elk River Bridge, and a severe thunderstorm watch has been issued for Inland Vancouver Island, East Vancouver Island from Courtenay to Campbell River, and North Vancouver Island.

The weather agency issues a thunderstorm watch when conditions are favourable for a thunderstorm with wind over 90 km/h, hail of two centimetres in diameter or more or heavy rainfall. A warning is when there is evidence on radar, satellite or a reliable spotter that the same conditions are imminent or occurring.

For the warning on Inland Vancouver Island, meteorologists are tracking a thunderstorm with the capability of developing strong wind gusts, nickel-sized hail and heavy rain.

Environment Canada’s lightning danger map shows lightning striking between Ucluelet and Sayward on Vancouver Island on Monday morning.

The lightning danger map shows the areas with the highest likelihood of being struck by lightning in 10 minute intervals.

Anyone in areas with lightning currently striking is urged to go indoors, go to a safe location, either a building with plumbing and wiring or an all-metal vehicle, and stay there for at least 30 minutes after the last rumble.

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Duncan, Esquimalt, Southern Gulf Islands, Malahat, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Port Hardy, Qualicum Beach, Tofino, Ucluelet, and Victoria all have a chance of lightning in the forecast.

The BC Wildfire Service map shows as of 11:45 a.m., there are six new wildfires in Strathcona Provincial Park, three near Sayward, one by the Nahmint River and another near Horne Lake, all suspected to be caused by lightning.

Armel Castellan, meteorologist with Environment Canada says lightning is expected to continue through the day.

“The ingredients are there for continued thunderstorm activity,” he said.

“The dry lightning element, which is what is likely transpiring because so far we’re not getting too much in the way of registering rains. So a lot of that lightning activity could be coming with very little in the way of precipitation, which of course spells a dry lightning event, and that’s obviously, concerning when you’re dealing with a fuel load that is quite dry.”

Castellan notes some areas are also forecast to receive some rain, which could also cause some issues where prolonged dry periods could have created hydrophobic soil.

“We do know, of course, that hydrophobic soils in this time of year after a long drought signal don’t do well with absorbing moisture and so a lot of it falls and runs off,” Castellan said.

“And so there’s the possibility, I don’t know if it’s on in any one community, but, some flash flooding or maybe even kind of debris flows coming off some of the slopes.”

Areas that don’t receive rain, may receive hail on Monday and some areas are forecast to receive some strong winds.

After this weather event, Castellan says the long weekend should go back to dry and about three or four degrees hotter than the seasonal average, then starting next week it should start to cool off, but remain dry.

According to Natural Resources Canada, lightning accounts for 45 per cent of all forest fires and 81 per cent of total area burned. The wildfires as a result of lightning often occur in remote areas, and in clusters.

Studies have shown that wildfires from lighting and the resulting damages cost the Canadian economy between $600 million and $1 billion each year, according to Natural Resources Canada.

The fire danger rating for most of Vancouver Island is currently at extreme or high.

Vancouver Island typically sees fewer lightning storms than the rest of the province or other parts of Canada. Between 1998 and 2018, Nanaimo saw the most lightning flashes within 25 km of the city with 1,300 and by comparison Dawson Creek had the most in the province with 16,383.

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