Tofino Storm Systems 101
Whether you’re a Storm Watching fan, Weather Network geek, or an armchair-meteorologist, there is something about the majesty of a Tofino winter storm! That time of year we await with wide-eyed anticipation, when Mother Nature puts on a furious, yet spectacular display of moody skies, blustery winds, and wave after wave, exploding against the South Coast of Vancouver Island, especially right here in Cox Bay.
In short, it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful.
It all starts in October, when the Pacific Ocean kicks-up, weather shifts, and an average of 10 to 15 storms show their stuff every month, right through April. And as seasoned, storm watching guests will attest, every storm delivers something different.
Well, to up our weather game and better understand what Tofino’s storms are all about, we thought we’d do some research on the how/what/why of where our storms come from. Here’s what we uncovered…
According to NAV Canada (the good people that manage 18 million square kilometres of Canadian and oceanic airspace), there are 3 types of Migratory Weather Systems that are carried into British Columbia over the Pacific Ocean, producing our day-to-day weather:
- Low pressure – counter-clockwise circulation forces air upwards = clouds/rain
- High pressure – clockwise air circulation causes sinking motion in atmosphere = fair/sunny skies
- Frontal – boundary separating two masses of air, causing a change in weather
Types of Tofino Storms
During Tofino’s summer months, weeks can pass between weather systems, and then right on queue—between October and April—low pressure systems play a starring role in basically 3 types of storms:
1. Gulf of Alaska Low
This type of storm remains well offshore as a frontal wave between the cold northern air and warmer southern air. The wave travels a considerable distance eastward, building as a low pressure system and increasing in size. The Low then takes a hard, northeastward turn and continue to the Alaskan Panhandle, while the frontal system keeps heading towards Tofino bringing clouds, precipitation and strong 35-50 Knot winds—equal to 65-93 km (40-57 miles) per hour.
2. Coastal Low
While not as frequent as the Gulf of Alaska Low, Coastal Lows are stormy drama queens when they take centre stage! Coastal Lows develop and move fast, changing from a very weak system into a severe storm in as little as 9 hours. Forecasters like to call these “weather bombs.” Strong southeasterly winds can reach 70 knots, and sometimes up to 100 knots—equal to 130-185 km (80-115 miles) per hour. A second sweeping band of wind often occurs, followed by a frontal system of heavy rain.
Occasionally, a storm will deliver some shock-and-awe, combining the characteristics of both a Gulf of Alaska Low and a Coastal Low, circulating in Alaska then sweeping southeastward, strengthening once again as it heads towards our coast along with very strong winds and widespread precipitation. (Translation: quite a show)
More Weather Facts
When forecasters talk about “knots” what exactly does it mean?
- Meteorologists use knot as a unit of speed to measure wind speed over water.
- A knot (or kt) is equal to 1.85 km (1.15 miles) per hour.
- Knots are also used to measure speed in sea and air navigation.
- History: In centuries past, sailors created their own GPS to know how fast they were travelling across the open sea. Using a rope that was several nautical miles in length, they tied knots at exact intervals with wood at one end. As the ship sailed, the wood end of the rope was dropped into the ocean, the number of knots were counted as they slipped off the ship and timed over 30-seconds using a glass timer. And by counting the number of knots that unspooled within that 30-second period, the ship’s speed could be estimated.
- This is why today, 1 knot is equal to 1 ‘nautical mile’ per hour.
[Take that to your next trivia night!]
Ready to experience Storm Watching in Tofino?
Check out our Pacific Storm Watching Package, including great winter savings in your choice of beachfront and ocean view accommodations, wine on arrival, and more.
[Pssst! While we can’t guarantee Mother Nature will deliver a storm on the dates you’re here, you can count on Tofino’s chill vibe to set the stage for a relaxing beach escape.]
Photo credit: John McCrae