Monday, January 28, 2002

You know, it's not like it DOESN'T snow here on the coast, it's just that below about 1000 feet the winter tends to be more wet than white. What determines where it will snow is a little thing called the freezing line. If you are above it, you get snow and below it you get rain. So when it pours down here at the 100 meter level, it's usually dumping above us somewhere.

Except yesterday.

Yesterday, the freezing level descended all the way to the beach. And the weather decided to precipitate immensely. The result was nearly a foot of snow in eight hours. We awoke this morning astonished, both at the amount of snow and at the realization that I had left the car at the TOP of our 40 foot, 30 degree driveway. An hour an a half later, after a good workout with the shovel and a couple of kilos of salt. I drove the car down to the bottom of the hill. Cripes.

The snow is beautiful though, and it hangs on the trees like fleece. It completely transforms everything, and a drive across the island to Bluewater for dinner with friends, was like driving through a canyon of white and green spires. Tonight the winds have come around now and a Squamish is rattling around the Sound, sending the wind chills down to -10 degrees.

It was a pretty good weekend, other than the unscheduled endurance workouts. Friends Randy Vic and Andy Hillhouse came over to play a gig at La Mangerie on Friday Night which was a lot of fun, and Randy and I played at the Breakfast Cafe on Saturday. Sarah and Richard, the owners, are crazy for Irish music. They have just opened a brick oven pizza place below called Tuscany. Typical Bowen contradiction.

And another thing I love about Bowen. Only here would you get a message like this one posted to the community electronic bulletin board.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Snowing again today, quite hard this morning, but it seems to have turned to drizzle this afternoon. Car was moved to the bottom of the driveway early this morning, and I got out to shovel snow for the first time since I moved to Vancouver in 1994. The birds, nuthatches, chickadees, juncos and a pair of errant pigeons are grateful for the little trays of seed we've left out.
A couple of inches of snow yesterday which was pretty wet but has stayed around long enough to freeze solid. There is a heavy dew tonight which has coated the roads in ice.

Yay. Winter. The driveway, a goat trail at the best of times, is impassable.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Last night and today we had a slush storm. At least we did here. A few metres above us it was snow and down below it was rain. But here it was slush that fell from the sky, not really sleet, but slush.

There is a line in a song by Lynn Miles about winter that goes "all the birds left months ago/except for the ones that are built for snow." Around here, although we aren't inundated with snow, that sentiment certainly applies to the juncos who arrive here for the winter and also the chickadees who stay here all year round, but who pack up in little gangs when the weather turns cold.

Black capped chickadee

We have two kinds of chickadees here, the familar black capped, and the more unusual chestnut backed. I spent about 10 minutes watching a flock of them this morning in Miller's Landing flit between a large cedar tree and a naked rose bush, where they could launch a final assault on a bird feeder. There were about 30 of them in the flock as well as a couple of white breasted nuthatches. In winter, chickadees eat all day, because at night they burn off all the fat they store up during the day. It's an endless cycle to keep their little metabolic fires stoked in the cold months. In fact this pursuit of fat is so intense that chickadees will even occaisionally eat the fat of dead animals, to the point where they will imitate coyotes to tell other chickadees of a potential kill. Don't believe me? Click here.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

We've got the first cold stretch of weather this winter now, with calm winds and clear skies and heavy frost at night. Typically we get fog and cloud building in over night, but it seems pretty clear in the morning. Good thing I finally planted my daffodils last week!

We're invaded by Dark-eyed Juncos right now, which are the real signs of winter. They are coming and eating off of a cardboard tube coated in peanut butter and seeds that Aine and I made. I think I started seeing them fluttering around here in October, and they will stay through to March or so when they head north again.

Juncos have really interesting behaviour. In the winter, they flock together and stick to an area of about 12 acres. The same birds retrun to the same place year after year, so the Juncos we have here now will be back next year too. Juncos are also pretty particular about their pecking order and the dominant males are always chasing the others away from the feeder. They put on quite a display flashing their white tail feathers and flapping their wings.

At night they roost together. I don't know where our flock goes but it would be a decent field project to follow them one evening and find out.

In other bird news I heard a redwinged blackbird the other day which is really strange. They rarely come around here in the winter, although I wonder if the recent warm weather had something to do with this one pitching up in Deep Bay.

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

The sun has just set and the sky is clear over a bank of low fog which hangs over the continent (that's what I've taken to calling the mainland). There are little misps of fog floating in the channel and it looks like it's building in..

We've had bizarre week of weather here, fed by a strong Pineapple Express which rasied the temperatures to +12 and dumped rain and wind all over us. There have been weather warnings issued almost every day this month, including wind warnings, heavy rainfall warnings and lightning alerts. Now it is eerily slack and the water is almost like glass.

It's deceiving because there is more of the same coming, although not before we get some colder weather and some fog.

Funny how this journal has almost been completely preoccupied with the weather, but that's life here in the winter.

In other news the library opened in the old Union Steamship Company General Store down in the Cove. They had been plauged with floods from broken pipes at Cates Square, so over Christmas the encouraged everyone to take out 20 books (all fines forgiven!) and they moved down the road.

The General Store building is pretty historic. Over the years it has served as a post office, a community hall and an earlier incarnation of the library. Now it has been renovated again, and several local woodworkers have contributed shelves and counter space so we can have a bigger and better (and drier!) library.

Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Rain. The rain is back. And we are in for buffeting northeasterly winds tonight, heavy outflow winds which shouldn't affect us too much, although I am waiting for our first serious Squamish wind to see whether it passes over Collins Ridge behind us, or whether it swoops down over the ridge and through our back door. At this moment the weather station at Pam Rocks is showing 62 kph winds but stepping outside, you'd think it was a calm midsummer night with rain gently falling. The Vancouver weather report says the airport has light easterlies, at 7km/h. Pam Rocks is up Howe Sound a little, lying due east of Gambier Island and lies in the thick of the Squamish gale.

This kind of anamoly is not unusual in the winter in Howe Sound. To the north of us, three big valleys, the Squamish, Cheekeye and Mamquam Rivers converge at the head of the Sound. Each of these rivers rise in the glaciers that top the mountains to the north and east of us. As the ice sheets produce great volumes of water, they also create great amounts of cold air. The cold air runs, like the rivers, downhill. When it reaches sea level, having fallen 7000 feet or so in only a few miles, it has a fair head of steam on it. It carries on out of the Sound and washes across the Strait of Georgia where it sometimes creates an ennervating windchill in Nanaimo. If the cold outflow is amplified by an approaching low pressure system, while a high pressure system lies inland, the air is both pulled by gravity and pushed by pressure, squeezed off the continent, cascading down the pressure slope. When that happens, the windchills around here can get bracing and the Squamish winds can remained sustained for long periods of time, creating a swell in Howe Sound that buffets the ferry and sprays icy seawater across the car deck exposing cars to a winter's worth of Ontairo salt during the 20 minute crossing.