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Editorial: Weekend storms a good warning

Saturday night’s storm didn’t live up to the predictions of high winds and heavy rain, but Environment Canada did the right thing to issue severe-weather warnings.

Saturday night’s storm didn’t live up to the predictions of high winds and heavy rain, but Environment Canada did the right thing to issue severe-weather warnings. It’s far better to be ready for a big storm that doesn’t materialize than to have a bad storm catch you unprepared.

The public was cautioned about winds hitting up to 100 kilometres an hour, velocities not experienced here in years and ones that could cause widespread damage. The forecasts evoked comparisons with the weather system associated with typhoon Freda that hit the west coast of North America in October 1962. That storm created wind gusts of up to 125 km/h and killed seven people in B.C.

In the U.S., where it was labelled the Columbus Day Storm, it was linked to 46 fatalities in Oregon, Washington and California. Winds destroyed weather-measuring equipment in Washington and Oregon, with one anemometer at Cape Blanco, Oregon, recording gusts as high as 288 km/h before it was knocked out by the wind.

So yes, it could happen here, and it would be foolish not to be prepared.

Those preparations are not wasted — the B.C. government and other agencies are constantly telling us to be prepared for emergencies, and the weekend storms remind us that it’s not just a major earthquake we need to keep in mind.

If you don’t have a 72-hour kit, assemble one. If you never need it, that’s fine, but it’s cheap insurance. Having a three-day supply of food, water, clothing, medicine and other essentials could make the difference between barely surviving and riding out an emergency in relative comfort.

Then you can gradually take your emergency-preparedness to the next level, stocking supplies and making plans that will help you survive for two weeks on your own. That’s not an unreasonable length of time in an area where trees can fall, roads can be blocked and power can be out for days at a time.

Dallas Road was clogged with cars Saturday evening, and parking places were scarce as people flocked to the waterfront to watch waves crash against the Ogden Point breakwater and tp get a sense of the ocean’s strength.

Some thrillseekers might have been disappointed that the storm didn’t reach the predicted intensity, but tell that to the thousands who were without power or were stranded when ferry sailings were cancelled.

B.C. Ferries cancelled 17 sailings on four main routes Saturday afternoon — Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen-Duke Point, Tsawwassen-Gulf Islands and Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay — along with sailings on several smaller routes.

That might have raised the ire of some ferry passengers, especially when the storm didn’t hit the levels expected. But the ferry corporation was only being prudent. We wouldn’t want a ferry service that lived on the edge and took risks with passenger safety.

Besides, armchair experts have never had to dock a huge ferry at Tsawwassen, which is unprotected by a breakwater and where one hard docking could put a ferry and a berth out of commission for days.

The storm was not so much blown out of proportion as it was blown off course. Meteorologists can see a storm coming, but can’t always predict exactly where it will go. The high winds did hit, but not in Greater Victoria, with 96 km/h recorded at Trial Island and 85 km/h at Discovery Island.

We were fortunate to be brushed by the edge of the storm, rather than feeling its full fury. But we should not be complacent — storms causing heavy damage have happened in the past and they will happen in the future.

This one was a warning to be ready.