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Vancouver’s surprise wind storm downs 25 transmission lines


The electrical grid was devastated by the surprise wind storm that hit Vancouver and surrounding areas as far west as Vancouver Island, north to the Sunshine Coast, and west to Hope on Saturday, August 29.

Winds at speeds as high as 115 kilometres an hour took BC Hydro by surprise, and prompted its officials to say they would be reviewing its weather forecasting systems. The Vancouver Sun reported that Wayne Martell, BC Hydro’s regional manager of distribution, said “One of the things we’re looking at now is how we can get some better weather analytics, more dedicated to the utility business.”

The utility had been prepared for heavy rainfall and possible flash floods, but not for the winds that left more than 525,000 customers without power at its peak. Twenty-five 60,000-volt transmission lines were downed that fed substations in North Vancouver, Langley and Surrey. In addition hundreds of 25,000-volt distribution lines to homes and business were lost when trees fell on them. It was the largest single outage BC Hydro has ever seen, and even by Tuesday, 35,000 customers in the Lower Mainland were still without power.

BC Hydro’s website went down during the storm, so customers could not find out when power would be restored. The utility relied on social media to give updates, but by unhappy coincidence during the storm it also sent out a scheduled tweet (#DiscoverBCHydro) which invited people to participate in an online campaign and submit photos of hydro recreational sites. The Twitterverse, of course, happily obliged with their photos of the wind damage.

The storm devastation was mostly to trees, houses and vehicles. There were no reports of major damage to highways, bridges or other infrastructure.

Vancouver’s deputy city manager, Sadhu Johnston, blamed climate change for the weather upheavals: “If you look at the summer as a whole, this will go down in history as the first summer Vancouver really experienced climate change. Think about air quality problems due to the extreme fires, the drought, the water shortages, extended periods of heat and then followed by extreme storm events. All we’re missing here is very high water levels.”

It’s estimated that Vancouver lost 500 trees during the storm.

To read the Vancouver Sun article of September 1, click here.

To read a CBC report on BC Hydro’s tweeting campaign, click here.