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Do British Columbians Need To Prepare For Hurricanes

Updated: Aug 27


But why?

Most people living in the coastal portion of B.C. likely have never considered a hurricane, but it is likely only a matter of time before hurricanes become a notable hazard that will impact those living on Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver, and the Sunshine Coast.

simulated photo of an oceanfront Craftsman-style house being blasted by waves

I'll explain here briefly why it hasn't been - and isn't currently - a problem and why it will likely become one. Storms are lethal usually only for those not prepared for them, and we in British Columbia are not prepared for hurricane-force winds. The most appropriate architecture we have at the moment includes deep overhangs to shed the large amount of rain, and structural cross-bracing to counter the force of the occasional earthquake.

Nearly everyone has seen the damage that Category 3 and greater hurricanes have done to islands and coastline around the Gulf of Mexico when they land, but a hurricane doesn't have to be a Category 5 or directly land in an area to wreak destruction. The tail end of a Category 1 hurricane (Hilary) is currently disabling a part of Southern California just by way of the rain it's dumping. The Pacific Northwest Floods of 2021 resulting from a Pineapple Express demonstrated that even cities in a region well-acquainted with a lot of rain can be disabled and disconnected simply by getting an unusual amount of rainfall.

The key to the strength and survival of a hurricane is the temperature of the water. As far back as the mid-19th century, the ocean temperature at a California's latitude has been too low to sustain a strong hurricane. However, take a look at the graph of the global average sea surface temperature since 1981 here or an interactive direct version HERE. This year, the ocean temperature off the coast of Florida was a high as in a hot tub. Not a warm bath, a HOT TUB.

simulated photograph of steam rising over the ocean as the sun sets

Ocean temperatures will continue to increase. One could debate why, but they have been showing an upward trend for forty years that has been accelerating. Over time, water temperatures off California will be adequate to support stronger storms. The moisture (rainfall) from those storms will extend further North. Eventually, it stands to reason that stronger storms will bring higher winds and more rain up to British Columbia. We experienced greater winds and more rain in 2006 as the result of super-typhoon Cimaron that formed on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Even a Category 3 hurricane that makes its way up to Oregon is likely to cripple Vancouver island and the Lower Mainland.

simulated photo of a Craftsman style house on a rocky short being attacked by high waves whipped by strong winds

In my article "Architecture for Extreme Weather", I review a variety of weather risks that we face and will certainly need to address better in the next decade. However, hurricanes are something new to us.

Your house could be ripped apart by strong winds the same way that the 2006 wind storms ripped out 10,000 trees in Stanley Park, but it doesn't have to be. The South Florida Building Code was overhauled over 20 years ago to prevent the disaster of Hurricane Andrew almost a decade earlier. In a future article, I'll share a summary of the key points behind what makes Florida's Building Code uniquely suited to hurricanes and how those strategies can be adopted here in British Columbia.

illustration of a frighteningly gloomy storm with towering waves blown by strong hurricane winds as a lone oceanfront house sits on the shore

200 km/h winds are blasting saltwater and all the debris caught in wind and wave at your house. In one scenario, the wind alone has ripped off your shingles and half your roof framing, blown out your windows, and the rains have flooded out your home. In the other scenario, the winds off the hurricane have only demonstrated how strong and well-detailed your house is. The rains continue to roll off the roof, and the windows hold fast so you can watch the ferocity from the safety of your home.

Are you wondering which scenario you'll be in when a North-tracking Category 4 heads up to Oregon, or can you already imagine losing your house to the ravages of high winds?

If you're planning a renovation to your existing house or are building a new house and want to ensure you're prepared for the climatic conditions of the future, I can lay out for you the steps to take. The first step to take is to book a Diagnostic Session - a free, 30-minute call with me to review what your objectives are and identify the best next step to take to get you on your way to a better home.

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