Port Renfrew knows all about rain.
But the small community on the southern edge of Vancouver Island has never seen so much — and so quickly.
By the end of November, 1,189 millimetres of precipitation had hit the ground there — more than double the amount Port Renfrew usually sees in November, and the highest rainfall anywhere on the Island for the month, even above rainy Ucluelet and Tofino.
And it was raining again Wednesday.
To put things in perspective, Port Renfrew’s November rainfall eclipsed the amount of precipitation Greater Victoria typically receives in an entire year, according to Environment Canada.
The Port Renfrew Volunteer Fire Department used its usual Tuesday practice time to fill and distribute sandbags for homes in danger of more flooding, as the last of three atmospheric rivers soaked the west coast and other parts of the Island on Wednesday.
Fire chief William Toulmin said localized flooding continues to affect roads and homes in the area. Some roadways are down to single lanes or closed as king tides and heavy rains combine to flood the San Juan River Estuary.
Toulmin said seasonally high tides over the next 60 days will be an added concern if heavy rains continue into December and January. “All things considered, we’re holding up pretty well,” said Toulmin. “People are saying we’re used to the rain, but this is nuts.”
Katie Nott, who manages the Trail Head and Wild Renfrew resorts, said during heavy rains in mid-November, logs were floating in the parking lot of the local pub, and water covered the road on the Circle Route to Lake Cowichan near Fairy Lake, and caused a sinkhole near Jordan River.
She said some residents have taken refuge in the resorts after their homes were flooded, but overall, the damage is not as severe as in other parts of the Island or province.
Rainfall was expected to give way to cooler and drier conditions Thursday and early Friday over much of the Island, but another system will move in quickly, bringing showers and possible snow flurries to some parts of the central and north Island, Environment Canada said.
Rain is expected to continue next week, but it will be less intense than the province has seen over the past two weeks.
EXTREMES BECOMING MORE COMMON
Meteorologist Armel Castellan of Environment Canada said we can expect to see more extreme heat and heavy rains as a result of climate change. “We will see lulls, but the frequency and amplitude and longevity of these events will continue to increase with the coming years and decades,” he said.
Weather stations in Nanaimo, Victoria and Abbotsford all broke seasonal precipitation records for September, October and November combined, he said.
Temperature records were also broken Wednesday. Castellan said the high-elevation heat is problematic because the snowpack is thin, which means it melts more easily, adding to runoff.
In Duncan, Canadian Armed Forces soldiers have been working with Cowichan Tribes since last week, helping to build barriers around homes and buildings at highest risk of flooding, including the Clem Clem Big house. Heavy rains mid-month flooded about 100 homes.
Cowichan Tribes said back-to-back weather events have put “immense pressures” on the First Nation as it recovers from flooding around the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers while also shoring up defences for future rain events.
“People are having to leave their homes and figure out how to clean up water damage, while at the same time knowing the waters might come again,” said Acting Chief Cindy Daniels, who urged members to “remain hopeful, check on elders and your neighbours, and do everything you can to be prepared.”
She said severe flooding is becoming more frequent, noting the Cowichan River has flooded every year since 2018.
North of the Cowichan Tribes, the Halalt and Penelakut First Nations were getting sandbagging help from 30 soldiers from CFB Edmonton to protect homes and buildings. The Chemainus River is running high, with some of the highest tides of the season expected.
Tiger dams — long rubber bladders filled with water — were being deployed in the area to protect buildings and homes.
RECORDS BROKEN ON WEST COAST
On the Island’s west coast, November’s rainfall of 1,100 millimetres at Environment Canada’s Kennedy Camp Station near Ucluelet smashed the previous record of 825 mm, set in 1962. But the rain did little other than stretch sewage lift stations, cause minor home flooding and create a sinkhole on the road to Tofino, said Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel.
“Those are very big numbers, but it’s not like we haven’t experienced it before,” he said Wednesday. “There’s water in the ditches, but it’s basically dry here.”
He credits B.C. Hydro with doing extensive work over the summer to spare the area from power outages, saying the impact of the rain and high winds might have been much worse had the community lost power.
Rainfall totals around the Island varied last month.
Environment Canada spokeswoman Lisa Erven said seven atmospheric river systems of “varying intensities” raced over the province during November. She said the systems have a “fire-hose effect,” meaning heavy rain is often pinpointed on small areas.
The Nov. 15 event was by far the most powerful pulse, dropping more than 180 mm on the Malahat over a 48-hour period and flooding several Island rivers and creeks.
In Victoria, the airport received 316 mm of rain — the second wettest November since 352 mm fell in 2006. In South Oak Bay, 286 mm of rain was recorded at the Gonzales Station. The record there for November was 308 mm in 1995.
Nanaimo had 359 mm of rainfall last month, the third wettest November on record. The record for the Harbour City for November was in 1983, when 477 mm was recorded.