Hundreds of southern Vancouver Island residents were drawn to their windows and yards Sunday night to watch a lightning show that took meteorologists by surprise.
“Last night’s event was a little odd or anomalous because it’s on the South coast and was a mid-atmosphere driver. That one caught us a little off guard,” said Armel Castellan, Environment Canada’s regional meteorologist for Vancouver Island, in a phone interview with Victoria Buzz.
The dazzling climatological event began around Port Renfrew and travelled up to Powell River before sweeping northeast.
According to Castellan, the lightning strikes were visible in Seattle, and as far up as Sechelt and Whistler.
Environment Canada calculated around 1,800 lightning strikes in total during last night’s event, including 900 that appeared directly over southern Vancouver Island.
“Those include cloud to cloud and cloud to ground strikes. Cloud to cloud are usually not as visible, but probably about half of those were cloud to ground, which were visible,” said Castellan.
The B.C. Wildfire Service interactive map shows that at least four wildfires from Sooke all the way up to Ladysmith were caused by last night’s lightning strikes.
There are currently a total of 13 wildfires in the southern Vancouver Island region.
A rare event
Castellan compares Sunday night’s lightning storm to one that took place almost exactly two years ago, on August 11, 2018, that made a more dramatic landing.
“We saw a very dry cold front come by, mostly for northern tip of Vancouver Island, that was interesting because it created 98 wildfires. This one wasn’t quite as impactful because it wasn’t maybe as dry in those forests as it had been in 2018,” says Castellan.
On average, Victoria sees 3.6 days per year of lightning activity within 25 km of the airport, meaning a show like Sunday’s is rare.
While it is difficult for models to predict when or whether lightning storms will occur in the future, Castellan says the possibility of another show is “certainly not impossible” around Thursday and Friday this week.
A dry storm like this one can only happen in the next two to three weeks, as mid-September brings with it wetter weather, he adds.
For those craving cooler temperatures, there is good news on the horizon:
“This week we start to see not just a ridge breakdown but a precipitation event that starts on the outside coast [of Vancouver Island] on Wednesday afternoon and reaches down to Lake Cowichan and Victoria Wednesday night.
It goes all the way through on and off to about late Friday and is a two day event,” said Castellan.
This moment of respite will include lower temperatures than what we have been seeing over the past few days, with highs of 18ºC expected between Wednesday and Friday.
The region is expected to bounce back to relatively dry, warmer than normal weather come Saturday and last for about a week.
As the southern coast of Vancouver Island has stayed relatively true to average temperatures for this time of year, Castellan says it is likely that the heat will start to dissipate within a couple of weeks.
“The last half of August is that sad time in the summer where you can have some warm days but you’re also on average cooling off,” he adds.
For now, residents are reminded to slather on the sunscreen and keep their hats on— especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.—as a few hot summer days are still on the horizon.