OUT ON A LIMB: Tall trees that stood for decades in Campbell River succumb to the storm

The air pressure centred off the west coast of Vancouver Island plunges and the whirling vortex frantically sucks in more air

The barometer plummets, sinks down, down, even further down to depths rarely seen.

Perhaps somewhere in Campbell River an elderly gentleman, disheveled housecoat, strands of grey hair standing up, stumbles stiffly into the kitchen to prepare his morning coffee.

Passing the barometer, he notices the needle on the gauge jammed down to its lowest levels. You can imagine him peering at it closely. He snorts, “hmmph.” Flicks the glass with his middle finger. “Hmmph,” again.

Then he notices the noise. It’s the wind. It’s the trees. It’s a distant crunch. A nearby clatter. What is going on outside?

Sweeping the front room curtains back, he unveils a canvas of grey chaos. Swaying, trembling trees  topple to the ground lashed by the furious wind. Root masses are raised into the air like a parody of a dead parrot in a child’s cartoon. Rain drops are slaves to the wind, whipping about horizontally and rattling windows, splattering streets, soaking everything.

Bits of houses roll along the ground like tumbleweeds in the desert. Pieces of roofs sail past the window. The street is littered with blown-over garbage cans, liberated trash bags, scattered recycling day contributions.

It’s a storm like no other and on Monday, March 12, it had the Campbell River area in its grasp. It’s fury that of a vengeful demon. Faced with the unexpected and the only half-understood, people conjure up near superstitious metaphors to describe forces like the weather.

But at 9 a.m. March 12, the scientific data pointed to the climax of a phenomenal atmospheric event that people could only describe with wonder, amazement and not-unwarranted fear.

At 9 a.m. March 12, the low pressure system on top of an island off the tip of the Brooks Peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island is so low and so deep, air from the surrounding area pours into it like a biblical flood. And on the ground that gushing air manifests itself as the wind

And the wind begins to scream. Howl. Rage. It’s been said that plants express anxiety. If that’s so, the trees can only be left to huddle in terror as the air mass pounds them furiously. Pushing, pulling, roaring in frustration until the proud firs and puny alders give up their resistance, letting go of the ground, roots ripped out of the soil. Tall trunks that stood for decades resisting storm after storm finally surrender to the fury of this one and topple to the ground.

People huddle in their shelters. Houses that once seemed so modern, so sturdy, so well built, suddenly seem so vulnerable.

The air pressure centred off the west coast of Vancouver Island plunges and the whirling vortex frantically sucks in more air from the denser, higher-pressured atmosphere around it.

And like a giant vacuum cleaner, the cyclone howls as the air mass attempts to correct a giant imbalance in pressure between the column of atmosphere above Solander Island and the areas of higher pressure adjacent to it.

Imagine the air as a body of water and then watch it cascade down into a narrow, deep hole like water down the drain of a giant bathtub. Spinning and roaring.

The draining water is the air circling around central Vancouver Island, tiny Solander Island at its epicentre. And that circling air is the wind. Now that you are visualizing the air using the bathtub analogy, reverse it.

Flip it over because the terminology focuses on the drop in pressure leading to words like deep and low.

But the movement of air is actually up and away from the surface of the earth, counteracting the force of gravity.  Hence the low, or lack of, pressure.

Pressure is a force pressing down on something, and in this case, low pressure means the lack of density.

The air is actually sucked up into the upper levels of the atmosphere.

High pressure is dense, heavy air sitting on the ground and is characterized by warm temperatures, clear air, stable conditions.

Low pressure is associated with moisture, cold air and wind. But, of course, this isn’t just an atmospheric wonder. It’s a borderline natural disaster.

For our deliverance, we can thank our wealth, our rich resources that allow us to afford the best building materials humans have ever developed. In less developed countries, there would have been no structure left standing.

As it was, somewhere south of Campbell River, a young boy is pinned under a tree toppled by the wind. One can only imagine how scared he was and how close we came to a tragedy. Meanwhile, roofs were caved in by giant firs. Thousands of dollars worth of damage has been caused.

It’s a natural phenomenon, of course, but it was one of the strongest storms to happen in 30-40 years.

 

Alistair Taylor is editor of the Campbell River Mirror. Connect with him at: editor@campbellrivermirror.com; twitter: @CRMirror; and on facebook at the Campbell River Mirror’s facebook page.