News / Vancouver

Storm wallops B.C. coast with 10-metre waves

The weekend's stormy weather brought dramatic waves, downed trees and power lines and a mountain of snow to some areas of B.C.'s south coast

Waves wash over a deck in Tsawwassen near Vancouver on Jan. 21, 2018.

Scott Hargrove/Contributed

Waves wash over a deck in Tsawwassen near Vancouver on Jan. 21, 2018.

Across B.C.’s south coast this weekend, an “epic” winter storm dumped snow, poured rain and pounded waves.

“I’ve lived in Tofino for almost 20 years, and I don’t remember ever seeing a storm as epic as this one,” said Josie Osborne, the mayor of the small town and popular vacation destination on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“The low pressure trough was just so huge and the way ocean currents and the winds work happened to whip up these really really big swells.

Logs being tossed about on a beach near Tofino during this weekend's storm.

Josie Osborne/Contributed

Logs being tossed about on a beach near Tofino during this weekend's storm.

“Even though they had abated by the time they reached the shore, they were still almost 10 metres tall.”

At the peak of the storm on Saturday night, 65,000 BC Hydro customers were left without power. The storm also knocked over trees — and, in Vancouver, bent over a traffic light post.

Osborne said there doesn’t appear to be any major damage to buildings in Tofino, but the storm tossed huge logs into front yards and was a good reminder of the power of the sea and how ocean water behaves when conditions are just right.

“The ocean environment is…a little bit sneaky,” she said.

Logs tossed onto a beach near Tofino following this weekend's storm.

Josie Osborne/Contributed

Logs tossed onto a beach near Tofino following this weekend's storm.

“You think you’re fine, it’s low tide, you see the waves are crashing on the sand way, way out, but those swells are so huge — and I witnessed this first-hand — the runup from the swell will come right up to the high tide zone and you might be standing there and the force of the water is enormous. Most people don’t understand how strong water is.

“If you’re knocked off your feet, you could be swept out by a large wave – it’s possible.”

Because of this danger, Tofino has teamed up with the District of Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park to implement the Coast Smart program, which was launched last year. Many tourists come to the region for winter storm-watching, and the three agencies coordinate to make sure the same message about beaches being closed is being delivered no matter where you are.

The storm was also useful for emergency planning. The region has a warning system in place in case of a tsunami — and according to one expert Osborne spoke to in the aftermath of the storm, some of the storm surges could be compared to a low-level tsunami.

“Understanding how the water behaves, how strong it is and how important it is to keep vegetation and trees in front of your house and set it back from the high tide line is a big part of mitigating the effects.”

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