Is Environment Canada a little too quick to issue wind warnings?

Weather is news, there’s no doubt about that but lately you have to wonder if the news focuses too much on the weather?

Wind warnings, snowfall alerts and special weather statements issued by Environment Canada are all eagerly relayed by news outlets but sometimes they kind of leave me shaking my head because what is breathlessly distributed by the media, often leaves me thinking, “That was it?”

Weather forecasting is an imprecise endeavour but I’m not one that subscribes to the oft-repeated complaint that the “weather service” never gets it right. Weather forecasts are frequently correct and often bang-on.

But occasionally, the predicted weather doesn’t show up and if it’s a deterioration, then the grumbling starts.

But things change, we’re talking about masses of air swirling around a spinning celestial body – i.e., our planet – and the possibility of your weather prediction being wrong is not surprising. They are called forecasts and predictions, after all. It’s what they expect to happen after studying the air masses and weather fronts approaching a geographical point. Most of the time, however, I’m confident in stating, the weather forecasters get it right.

But sometimes, I put to you, they’re not as right as they say. A contradiction, you say. A paradox. Well, let me explain.

Take, for example, the wind warnings Environment Canada issues. “Wind Warning In Effect” is the label on the top of the Environment Canada page for your particular locale. “The region is expecting or is currently experiencing highs winds,” is the statement that accompanies the warning. Then they throw out numbers like winds of 60-70 km/h or higher.

What gets me is that these are strong winds, sure, and accompanied by rain, it’s damn unpleasant. But it’s not something that we need a warning about.

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It sounds so dramatic: “Wind Warning in Effect.” But then it blows through and I’m left thinking, “Meh, that wasn’t so bad.”

I mean, correct me if I’m wrong but the wind’s got to be 90 km/h before it’s what I call strong. That’s when it gets really howling and whips up Discovery Passage and we start to get big waves crashing on Campbell River’s shores.

I love the wind and I love storms. I’m one of those people that will park my car on the foreshore and watch the wave action. I love seeing the water pile up on the shoals off Francisco Point on the southern end of Quadra Island. The water swells up and frequently breaks into whitecaps.

Winds less than that are just strong winds. I still don’t recommending getting out the old sailing dinghy, or anything but did we really need the red-highlighted “Wind Warning in Effect” on Environment Canada’s Campbell River page?

And then you get a succession of these winds, Southeasters, of course, is what we all call them.

But they come in waves separated by a day or even a few days. It’s a common weather pattern around here and I’m wondering why they feel the need to issue an alert? It seems like a recent development. We never used to get them 15-20 years ago, that I remember.

Actually, I don’t wonder, I know why. In this day and age of litigation and social media scrutiny, if something bad were to happen, then Environment Canada would be blamed for not telling anybody that this wind was coming. So, when a strong wind’s expected, a warning is issued so that you can prepare.

Remember when that “wind bomb” hit the Campbell River area on March 12, 2012? Now, that was a weather event. That was a wind that we needed a warning about. I don’t remember if we did get notice that a strong wind was coming but if we did, it ended up being vastly more powerful than expected.

That’s the kind of thing where the warning wouldn’t have done it justice.

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At the time, I interviewed a UBC PhD candidate studying B.C.’s weather and he said that wind had all the characteristics of a “decent hurricane.” It was a unique event – a localized cyclone – that produced winds up to 134 km/h.

Now, that warrants a wind warning.