Page from weather record book December 2021

Weather Anxiety

I am a weather nerd. I follow weather obsessively online, via forecasts, satellite and radar, a network of local observations, and meteorologists’ technical discussions. For the past several decades, I have recorded high and low temperatures, cloud types, approximate wind strength and direction, and precipitation every day. I know how weather works in my region. Until this year.

All day it has been windy. The trees are in full leaf now, and their branches toss and sway, throwing off twigs, leaves, and green unripe keys (maple seeds). Siberian irises just coming into bloom shimmy and shake, but one stem of a tall bearded variety (white with purple edges) bows down to the ground. The gardener hustles over, makes sure the stem is only bent and not broken, and administers first aid with a bamboo stake and a couple of ties.

An evening around the time of the summer solstice. There is no wind; the air is absolutely still and perfumed by a thousand rose flowers in bloom. Plants stand in their characteristic shapes, their leaves precisely angled to stems and stalks, each one with its own version of the colour green. The sun has slipped out of sight, but its light gilds the scene with perfection. The gardener stands and stares, a cluster of deadheads in one hand, secateurs in the other. As dusk softly advances, the garden becomes a place in which a mystery is about to be revealed.

I wrote these two paragraphs last May, back when local weather was what is generally termed “normal.” I think I intended them to be part of a blog post about weather from a gardener’s point of view. Then at the end of June came the “heat dome,” four days of abnormally hot temperatures. All kinds of records were shattered, 600 people died in the province of British Columbia, and a small town in the interior was pretty much destroyed by fire on a day when the local temperature topped out at nearly 50 degrees C.

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.
Weird orange sunlight because of smoke from forest fires in the BC interior, 2018

Autumn came, a time that is usually benign and associated with harvest and plenty. Not this year in BC. After a dust-dry summer, copious rain in September and October quickly saturated soils. A succession of “atmospheric river” rainstorms arrived at the end of October and into November and brought catastrophic flooding to several communities. And I really mean catastrophic–homes destroyed, farm animals drowned, lives disrupted. Between fires and floods, thousands of people in this province were forced from their homes in 2021, some permanently.

There was a small tornado–in November, in Vancouver, BC! Nothing like the truly devastating tornados in the US in December, but both of those events were unusual and suggest that fundamental change is happening. Almost every week since June, weather in western Canada has been described as “extreme,” “record-breaking,” or “unprecedented.” Including extreme cold during the week between Christmas and the new year.

I spent an hour on Christmas day moving potted pelargoniums (tender geraniums) and the garden hose into the house, because three nights of -8 or -9 degrees C (16 to 18F) were predicted. The average low temperature at this time of year is 1C (34F). On Boxing Day, the temperature did not exceed -5C (23F), and that night my max-min thermometer recorded -10C (14F). All day, I was busy rotating hummingbird feeders in and out of the house as the liquid inside began to freeze. At first I tried a trick I saw on the internet: wrapping a string of incandescent Christmas lights around the feeder. It looked pretty, and one hummingbird even visited, after he got over his nervousness, but unfortunately the lights didn’t produce enough heat. I resorted to buying a third feeder so I always had one in the house to swap out with a freezing one outside. Sadly, I suspect some hummingbirds–females or juveniles–may have perished.

Hummingbird feeder with Christmas lights December 2021
Not the best photo, but it shows the Christmas light setup and a hummingbird visiting the feeder. Too bad the lights didn’t produce enough heat.

A short period of below normal cold isn’t unusual in the course of a winter, but it usually happens in January or February, not December. Same with the occasional summer heat wave–in July or August, not June. I can’t help thinking that this period of extreme cold right after the winter solstice somehow corresponds to the abnormal heat which arrived right after the summer solstice.

Right here, right now, the weather is out of whack. It’s tempting to attribute this to climate change, rather than to normal ups and downs. Against reason, I’m hoping this has just been a year of anomalous weather for western Canada, but three anomalies in the same year indicates something more fundamental. Governments and power companies now advise everyone to put together emergency kits in case of extensive power outages or evacuation orders. (Of course, we who live on the west coast are supposed to have such kits already, in anticipation of the Big One.)

Whatever the cause, I’m now experiencing weather anxiety, even though I haven’t been affected in any serious way (yet). When sounds of rain and wind wake me at night, I get up and doom-scroll check radars and satellites on whatever device is handy. Earplugs are now standard sleeping equipment. Normal isn’t normal any more. The past can no longer predict the future. Scanning my decades of weather observations tells me only about weather of the before times. The extremes of yesterday may be the normals of tomorrow.

Weather record books

Or maybe this is only a blip (well, three blips)? Take the Blizzard of 1996, for example. A metre and a half of snow fell on Victoria, BC over several days in late December, with a grand finale that buried cars and brought the city to a standstill for a week. It was one of those extreme, record-breaking, unprecedented weather events. But nothing like it has happened in the quarter-century since. So, climate change notwithstanding, I hope 2021 has just been a year of freakish weather in my part of the world, and we can return to blissfully boring in the near future. Recognizing, of course, that for some folks in the towns of Lytton, Merritt, Princeton, and in the Fraser Valley, the road back to normal may be long and hard, no matter what the weather.

53 comments

  1. I didn’t know you paid such close attention to the weather Audrey? In order for me to understand what the sunset is going to be like I always check the satellite feed.
    I remember 96! That sure screwed things up for a while as city crews in both Vic and Van did not have many snow plows…..because he hardly get snow!
    I would describe 21 in four letters. P F F S Pandemic,Fires,Floods and Snow

    Liked by 5 people

    1. It started with being a gardener in a place that seems to get less rain in the summers. I got a rain gauge and a max-min thermometer, and started writing down the info so I could refer back to it in the future.
      PFFS, that about describes it!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. We’re getting more extremes of weather in my part of the world, heavier and more prolonged rainfall, and stronger winds. Spring months are increasingly dry, summers increasingly hot, but nothing on the scale other parts of the world are experiencing, including yours, Audrey. Iโ€™ve resorted to ear defenders some nights to block out the wind, otherwise I lie awake braced for the sound of something coming off the house. I like your weather fascination. Iโ€™m a slave to the forecast as it dictates my walking days, but it must be interesting to refer back to previous years and compare seasons, temperatures and so on – a must for such a keen gardener.

    Happy New Year, and hopefully a return to kinder weather patterns for you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your weather trends are similar to ours, but we had a shot of the extreme this year. I hope we get a break for a while, but I think the old extremes will become the norm eventually.
      The thing about weather is it’s real. Even though influenced by human activity, weather is not a human creation, unlike most other things that preoccupy many of us. Gardeners and people who regularly get outdoors are in touch with the real.
      Thank you, Michael, for reading and offering your thoughts.

      Like

  3. Understandable Audrey, another personal reminder that our comfort and well-being are conditional, and always have been.
    Weather always has the final say when we meet it, I guess this is why some climate change deniers are so hostile to the concept, deep down instinctually the notion scares them.
    I didn’t realise in your part you were sitting on an area of earthquake risk, the link made sober reading.
    Best wishes to you and your garden which you so carefully tend to.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Roger! Yes, we live on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire. I can spook myself just thinking about what those tectonic plates are up to. Unlike weather, there are no warning signs; it just happens. The last major earthquake here was on January 26, 1701 (as recorded by those who observed the resulting tsunami in Japan). Some say we’re overdue for another one. But this is nevertheless a desirable place to live.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. One sort of comfort on being overdue for earthquakes is that the geological timescale is measured in a far longer scale than human life, so overdue could be a few thousand years or so (less than a heart beat in geological terms where a hundred thousand is small change ).
        May all remain well for you Audrey.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Climate change for sure – finally catching up with predictions. We had our latest snowfall ever here in Colorado Springs – on Jan. 1 we managed to get about two inches at my house. Usually we get a first snowfall around Halloween. The suburbs of Boulder, CO, caught fire a couple of days ago – it was a prairie grass fire and it tore through in one day with winds of 100 mph, wiping out two smallish cities and burning some 1000 houses and commercial buildings like a Target store and a hotel. They thought that no one killed, miraculously, but as of yesterday there were three people missing who may be dead. Everything is becoming more extreme everywhere in the world.
    I’ve been wondering how you’ve been doing. I know the Northwest got dumped on by an unusual amount of snow lately.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I heard about those winds and fires; it seems something like that can happen any time now. There is no more off season for fires.
      We had a week of extreme cold from Dec. 26th until just yesterday. The lowest temperature recorded on my max-min thermometer was 14 degrees F, but there were a few other nights below 20F. My neighbour found two dead hummingbirds at his place. We had almost a foot of snow too, but that was good in a way–insulation for plants.
      I just finished lugging my geraniums back outside; hope I don’t have to bring them in again.
      All this is anxiety-producing, Lorinda. I hope you’re safe where you are!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re on the coast, so you get the ocean’s moderating effect. Since I’m on the eastern side (leeward side, I think it’s called) of the Rockies, storms that come from the west dump their snow in the mountains, then become dry downslope winds (chinooks) on the east side. I’m personally not crazy about snow (have to pay somebody to shovel it), but I’m always glad when it hits the mountains. Not only do the skiers love it, but that’s where we get our water. This year we haven’t had any of those “Alberta clippers” – blizzards that come straight down from Canada..

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m watching the weather report now (sort of). The forecast is for “highly yucky.” (For real. That’s what he said.)

    Your diary looks just like my grandfathers’ diary entries!

    The weather you’re describing sounds very scary. You can’t help but wonder if the extremes signal a planet in climatory trouble.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Highly yucky.” A new meteorological term?
      I must be carrying on an old tradition with my weather records; that’s good, right? ๐Ÿ™‚
      I think weather patterns are shifting and becoming less predictable with the models used by forecasters. That is scary, but all the more reason to pay attention.
      Thanks for your comments, Liz!

      Liked by 2 people

        1. No, actually. I don’t have a barometer. However, the University of Victoria has installed simple weather stations in a large number of schools on Vancouver Island (mostly around Victoria). The data is accessible via the internet, so at times I pay attention to pressure, humidity, and wind speeds as recorded at those sites. It’s a great resource.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. You had me with the title. I do not have records like yours but my garden journal includes anomalies. I am also anxious. Nature is a strong force. There are checks and balances. Too much of anything leads to disease and limited resources. Humans are PART of this, not in control of this. I will stop there.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love your weather geek write-ups. Very poetic and not jargon-laden. We were in Monterey, CA for a week over Christmas and heard that the Sierra had gone from having almost no snow to over 16 feet within a few weeks. I just hope it does not all melt too fast and causes flooding. We can observe the weather, try to predict or plan for it, but other than talk about it, we can not do much else about it. Love your picture of the Christmas-lit humming bird feeder.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Pat. I remember writing those weather vignettes last spring. I think I meant them to be “snapshots.”
      You’re right about the effects of sudden mountain snow melt. That was what happened in mid-November to the town of Merritt in BC. All 7,000 people were told to evacuate when the sewage treatment plant failed. The local river actually changed course, permanently. Cleanup and rebuilding will go on for a long time. Scary stuff.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. The thing for me is that if you look at each incident in isolation, there is precedence for it. But as you say, when you’ve had three extreme or unusual weather events in the same year, it’s hard to think of each incident as a stand-alone event. But … those horrible tornadoes that ripped through parts of the US a few weeks ago? There was a similar incident with more tornadoes around 40-50 years ago. Here in Northern California, the Lake Tahoe region got more snow this past December than “ever.” But “ever” meaning since they started keeping records like that is only 50 years and there was a year within those 50 years that came pretty close to what happened this past month.

    I’m relatively comfortable with the idea that climate change is a thing, but I think it is more a function of earth’s regular warming and cooling cycles than necessarily human-caused.

    Hopefully, things will calm down for all of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, there are normal extremes, and some that seem abnormal. Sort of like some unknowns, I’m thinking. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I certainly hope we get a break from extremes here. Today is the first day in a week to be solidly above freezing.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness, although financially focused, speaks to humans’ failure to prepare for extreme events and their unexpected frequency.
    Not to contest the growing evidence of calamitous climate change, that’s pretty much here and here to stay, but that we humans should have always been aware of the possibility for disaster.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post, Audrey, and I share your anxiety. It’s been a year of extremes and I worry that more is to come. I find myself cheking the weather forecast on my phone a lot these days, especially when it comes to driving out to my daughter’s for babysitting duties. As I read you post, the temperature is warming up, finally, and rain is starting. I’m very happy to see it! I think my hubby and son have already had their fill of snow shoveling!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I find the weather and climate fascinating too, Audrey. I don’t take notes as you do, but it’s something I’ve always found intriguing. I am a bit of a math nerd and think statistics and patterns are interesting.

    The weather has pretty much gone crazy in California the past several years with lots of draughts leading to a record-breaking number of acres burned by wildfires the past two years. Things have returned to a more normal pattern here with lots of moisture this winter.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I get weather anxiety too. It’s not so much a personal life-and-limb thing, but I’m scared of societal upheaval in the aftermath of extreme weather events. I’ve never heard of wrapping hummingbird feeders with Christmas lights, pretty.:-) Too bad it didn’t work, but you got some COLD weather!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, those little lights weren’t putting out enough warmth. We had three or four days when the temperature was below freezing, sometimes well below. I’m glad it’s warmed up to the 40s (5C and up) by now. Hummingbirds are flying around and I even saw a tiny mosquito or something today, so maybe the hummers will be able to catch a bug or two to build themselves up.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Weather anxiety. Yes, that is the perfect description for what I go through every summer. We keep dodging the bushfire bullet but in a way, that only makes me more anxious because the area where we live is bushfire ‘prone’.

    I don’t keep amazingly precise records the way you do, but if I think back to my childhood and late teens, things were very different. For starters, we simply didn’t have aircon because we didn’t need it. Even the humble pedestal fan was rare. These days? I can’t imagine getting through a summer without some form of air conditioning.

    They say that the difference between weather and climate change is in the long term trends, not the year by year differences. Here in South Eastern Australia we are feeling climate change, not weather, and I fear that the northern hemisphere is experiencing climate change as well.

    Let’s just hope there’s a bit of a rest period before the next up-tick. :/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Summer used to be the time of year you didn’t have to worry about weather. Not any more. It looks like extremes are possible any time now. Not good, but we have to accept this before we can cope with it. I think you’ve done that when it comes to being prepared for fires.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I enjoyed your way of writing very much, even if the topic was not the happiest in the world. Weather recording really is something I wouldn’t have thought of doing at all! However, I’ve been really appealed by your planner. Would you mind sharing the brand/model? This could maybe motivate me, even more, to write on a day-to-day basis!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you!
      I used to record weather in a 5-year diary specifically for that purpose. I have two of those, covering 10 years of records. Unfortunately, they are no longer available. Now I use a general diary called Paperblanks 5-year Snapshot Journal, published by Hartley & Marks Publishers. Their website is at paperblanks.com.
      This works fairly well for me, but the space for each entry is quite limited: 4 lines in1.5 x 2 inches. Brevity is essential!

      Liked by 1 person

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