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Early heat wave sparks interest in planting — and flood warnings

Temperatures in Victoria are expected to hit 23 C Friday and rise to 28 C on Sunday and into Monday, while Port Alberni is set to peak at a sweltering 32 C on Sunday
Terry Michell shows the dry fields as a crew plants red cabbage at Michell's Farm Market on Wednesday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A heat wave set to descend on Vancouver Island this weekend is triggering a rush to garden centres, while farmers feverishly plant their crops and beaches are expected to be packed.

But there are also warnings that the unseasonably high temperatures — which could reach up to 32 C — are quickly melting snowpacks and creating dangerously high river flows, not to mention increasing the potential for wildfires.

Temperatures in Greater Victoria are expected to hit 23 C Friday and rise to 28 C on Sunday and into Monday. Port Alberni is expected to peak at a sweltering 32 C on Sunday, while Nanaimo and Campbell River will see 27 C. Even Tofino is set to reach 25 C.

Overnight temperatures are forecast to be unusually warm at about 14 C.

Bobby Sekhon, meteorologist for Environment Canada, said the high-pressure ridge forming over B.C. and into the Prairies — even the southern reaches of the Yukon and Northwest Territories — is “exceptionally strong” for this time of year.

“These temperatures are 10 to 15 degrees above normal,” said Sekhon. “It’s quite an anomaly because these are temperatures we would normally see in the summer months.”

The national weather office said the heat is coming from a blocking pattern, where the ­normal fluctuation of low and high pressures stops, and warm air flows into an area without the relief that usually comes from an influx of cooler northern air.

While the heat is expected to peak on Monday, there is potential for the blocking pattern to return later next week.

The heat wave isn’t expected to be as intense as the heat dome of June 2021, where temperatures hit 39 C in Greater Victoria, but the province is on high alert for fires and floods.

B.C. Hydro has closed the pathways on the Puntledge River in the Comox Valley until at least May 18 and will be testing its public warning siren system next week.

“With the ongoing higher river flows in place from the snowmelt, we are extending our public safety advisory to please stay away from the river system,” said B.C. Hydro spokesman Stephen Watson, noting river flows are three times higher than normal right now.

With the warm weather, Watson said people will gravitate to several places on the Puntledge to cool off, but he said it’s just too dangerous now. He said 15 to 30 centimetres of fast-flowing water is enough to knock a person off their feet and sweep them away.

Watson said the warm temperatures are quickly eroding snowpacks and filling the Campbell and Puntledge rivers. The Campbell River, he said, was at a 60-year low for flows in March, but is now recording some of the highest water levels on record.

“It gives you an idea of how quickly things can change [as temperatures warm],” said ­Watson.

If you’re thinking of cooling off in the Cowichan River with a leisurely float this weekend, you might want to reconsider.

The Tube Shack at Lake ­Cowichan, which rents ­inflatables for tubing on the river, is closed. In a social media post, the company said the river is not safe to tube this time of year. “Just because the sun is out doesn’t mean the river is low enough or warm enough to tube safely. See you in six to eight weeks.”

The warm weather has been a boon to nurseries. C&C ­Growers, one of the Island’s largest ­wholesalers of flower and ­vegetable plants, said it is busy keeping up with orders to grocery stores, garden centres and municipalities all eager to get products on their shelves due to customer demand.

“We’re getting calls from garden centres and retail stores asking can we get more than what we originally ordered,” said Erin Winchur. “People really want to get into the garden right now. It’s definitely been a quick uptake for us this year.”

C&C has 31 greenhouses on its eight acres in the Blenkinsop Valley in Saanich and it’s quickly emptying those with a steady stream of deliveries.

Terry Michell of Michell Farms on the Saanich Peninsula was out in the fields planting cabbages, parsnips and lettuce this week, saying growing conditions are dry for the family’s commercial crops.

He’s irrigating most of his fields from the farm’s wells. Despite occasional showers this spring, rainfall last year and over the winter was unusually low and has depleted well water tables, which are about 35% lower than normal years.

Michell is concerned the wells used for irrigating may get to the point where the farm has to start using more municipal water to irrigate the fields.

“Anything we seed now we have to give it a lot of water,” said Michell. “We will be ­watching the water tables very closely. Fortunately we have some city connections and [the Sooke Reservoir] looks OK for this year. But we will definitely be using more drip irrigation and other ways to conserve.”

The Capital Regional District reported the Sooke Lake Reservoir — Greater Victoria’s main water supply — was 99.6% full on Wednesday.

With more heat on the way, the BCSPCA issued a warning reminding owners not to leave pets in their vehicles. “For a dog, harmful and even life-threatening effects can occur in a short time in a hot car,” the alert says. “Dogs can’t release heat by sweating, as humans do, so their internal body temperature rises more quickly.”

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