The meteorologists warned us well before it arrived. “An ‘atmospheric river’ is on its way!” they excitedly predicted, “and a windstorm!” Rolling our eyes at their hyperbole, we got ready anyway, pulling the foot bridges off the creek, putting the carport freezer up on blocks, moving our vehicles to higher ground. The weather has been nuts this year, anything is possible. We charged all the things; the neck lights and headlamps, our phones and tablets. We filled the potable water jugs, lining them up along the kitchen counter. The well pump won’t run if the power goes out, and we like our tea, so we need plenty of water. We stacked firewood by the door, made sure there was gas for the generator, and that the barnyard crew were well provisioned.
Saturday around noon, right on schedule, it began to pour, and it didn’t let up until 48 hours and 153.9 mm later. More rain at one time than we’ve seen since we moved here almost a quarter century ago. Over the last ten years, only seven MONTHS beat the rainfall we saw in TWO DAYS. We didn’t quite make the top ten, but our Malahat (Island Highway) did.
Now, I love the rain, but this was too much rain, and all the time it fell, my nerves were on edge. When would it stop? Would we flood out? We live in the bottom of a valley, right beside (…like, within six feet of) Goward Spring creek. The barnyard is next to the creek too, further down the property. In other words, we are about as exposed to flood risk as a beach dweller is to a tsunami. And an atmospheric river was flowing.
After dark was the worst, because we couldn’t see what was going on outside. We could only hear the enemy, drumming on the skylights. We took it in turns through Saturday and Sunday nights, putting on raincoats and headlamps and tromping outside to monitor water levels while practicing SAR whitewater safety – “stay far enough away from the rushing water so that if you do slip, you won’t slide in”. That could easily end badly. The water was roaring through our valley so vigorously that we had to shout to talk to each other outside. One of the nights, I forget which, RG flashed her light in our window, doing a bed check, and woke me up. Why was she looking in our bedroom window at 3 in the morning in the pouring rain? She’d been doing the rounds, and DH had left his office light on and the back door unlocked, and she was worried he’d gone out to check on things and fallen in. But he was snoozing beside me. So she went to bed too, and soon after that I got up, and we carried on.
For the last year or so, seeing our weather misbehave more often, and reading about weather events around the world, we have paying more attention to planning for disasters. One improvement that we had been debating was putting a culvert in on the far side of the driveway bridge, to redirect water away from the house if the creek flooded over the bridge and rushed down the driveway. We hadn’t broken ground yet though on that little job, and this weighed on my mind as I watched the rain fall. Were we too late? Had we dithered too long?
But much to our relief our house stayed dry. All our floodwaters went to harmless places. The people who built this house did good when they put it on the high side of the creek. Our little watercourse burst its banks quickly, growing from her usual five feet wide to more than 20. She overwhelmed the driveway bridge, but harmlessly, splitting into three streams temporarily, then rejoining herself and flowing out across the yard in an big double arc that combined again well below the house. She did not come down the driveway towards the house at all.
The coops stayed safe too, the creek banks get quite tall down that end of the place, so there was enough capacity to carry the excess water away with only a bit of flooding on the far side of the creek. It was close though, if the water had risen another few inches, the hen hotel would have turned into a spa.
The property right below us flooded badly. The creek widened into a lake across its entire 200 foot width, and spilled over the public path that runs alongside. Luckily there is no house there yet. Although they are trying to get a permit to build.
The deep ravine at the other end of our lane flooded too, sending water sheeting across the road so that DH’s brakes temporarily failed as he tried to negotiate the corner. All a bit of fun for him, I suppose. Motorsport man would have enjoyed getting out of that little difficulty.
At noon on Monday, the rain finally stopped. What a relief!! And then, literally half an hour later, our valley ringing with emergency vehicle sirens, the creek roaring like a jet engine, and a line of cars strung out along the far side of our place turning around because the road ahead was submerged, the wind started blowing hard. It was surreal. Almost immediately, grove of 3 or 4 big alders crashed down across the roadway, the rain soaked soil letting go without a fight. The power went out and the roadblocks went up. It would be almost 24 hours before the road reopened and the lights came back on.
“It’s a good thing” I thought at the time, “that we’re not trying to run any pumps”. We didn’t need to. Our little creek was a champ, working 24/7 to whisk all that water away down the Colquitz watershed to the Salish sea.
It’s been a week now since the storm began and here on the island things are starting to settle down. Parts of the lower mainland are still a colossal mess. Thousands of farm animals dead, thousands of people with flooded homes, and people missing in highway slide areas. The main routes to the rest of Canada were still closed Saturday morning, three of them finally opened in the afternoon.
Over here on the island, our grocery store shelves are half empty, the feed stores have no feed, and gas is rationed. Our island highway has reopened, single lane alternating, but hey, it’s not closed for 12 hours a night anymore! They’ve managed to stop it dissolving down the mountainside.
Here in our muddy valley, we’re in clean-up mode, and watching the weather forecasts. Another storm is expected this week. North of us this time though, they say. Like many people, we can see the weather is changing, so we will keep doing what we can to be ready. It’s only sensible. We’re not going full tinfoil hat prepper, with big buckets of dried food in the basement and an AK47 in the closet; not even close. We made sure to get pictures of the storm’s impacts, and I am storing these online along with the rainfall stats and my observational notes. Data yields information, which yields actionable knowledge, which yields… we hope, a roadmap to guide next steps. We know now that we don’t need a culvert, for example, and we have the pictures to prove it..
This weekend, as I work around the place, I will keep an eye out for trouble spots. I might take more pictures, make a couple more notes, and I will definitely stake the high water marks where we plan a new bridge over the creek. All jobs best done while the storm’s scars are fresh on our minds and on our environment. Because there will be a next time, and the gods help those who help themselves.