The media, governments, and tourism marketers have long been promoting the South Okanagan region around Osoyoos, BC, as Canada’s only true desert — even though Osoyoos is only semi-arid (or semi-desert if you prefer). As we shall see below, it is not a “true desert” by any known scientific definition.
Others have tried this type of scam before, but few with the success of Osoyoos.
One tourist website I stumbled across a number of years ago started out by admitting that Lillooet (another semi-arid town) receives about 330 mm (13 inches) of precipitation per year at the official weather station, but then went on to claim that other areas of the valley where no weather stations have ever existed actually received less than 50 mm (2 inches). Don’t ask me how they would know that when no one was measuring it. Anyway, this would surely put the town in desert territory since North America’s driest location — Death Valley, California — receives more than that. It seems that cooler heads have prevailed because this “information” has been scrubbed from the internet.
Inaccurate statistics placed on the internet become stubborn obstacles to truth long after they’ve been thoroughly debunked. One example being Della Falls on Vancouver Island, which has long been known as Canada’s tallest waterfall. Even a government website listed it as such until recently when some waterfall enthusiasts measured the waterfall. This bogus statistic is slowing being scrubbed from the internet and from government sources, but the misinformation lingers in the minds of the public.
Back to “Canada’s only true desert” again. In the old days – say like five years ago – you’d find a lot more articles like this, this, and this. Yes, you read that last story right – they actually claim there are tarantulas living there, which, of course, is complete horsefeathers! Equally false is the statement about the area being part of the Sonoran Desert. Not to be outdone, even the federal and provincial governments got into the act calling this area part of the Great Basin Desert.
Today the articles and press releases seem more nuanced, calling Osoyoos desert-like instead of “Canada’s only true desert.” I can only assume it’s because someone has asked tough questions like the waterfall enthusiasts did around Della Falls. Still, the public is left in the dark because any sort of correction has been done quietly to save face.
Those claims that Osoyoos is Canada’s only true desert and the northern extent of the Sonoran Desert are surprisingly easy to falsify. The Sonoran Desert doesn’t even make it half way up Nevada, so that’s easy to debunk, but desert does exist into Washington State, and as we will see shortly, into British Columbia as well – just not Osoyoos.
The accepted definition of a desert is an area where the aridity index is less than 0.2 (think of it as evaporation being five times higher than precipitation); this index is calculated by taking the precipitation and dividing it by the potential evapotranspiration (similar to evaporation).
Desert (arid) is one of four dry climate classifications, accounting for 47% of the planet’s landmass.
Several different methods and formulas exist for determining the aridity. The best one is the Penman-Monteith method because it takes into account variables such as wind, humidity, sunshine, and air pressure.
Let’s look at the formula for a second.
Ahhh. Okay, let’s move on.
Less sophisticated methods are more often used to estimate potential evapotranspiration because the only variables available for most places are temperature and precipitation.
One of the more popular methods for determining aridity is the one employed by the Köppen climate classification. I will spare you the formula, but it yields similar results, placing Osoyoos in the wetter half of the semi-arid category. The Penman-Monteith method yields a more arid result, but at just over 0.28, still lands solidly within the semi-arid zone.
You might be saying to yourself at this point that Osoyoos might not be a true desert, but it’s the most arid place in Canada. After all, aridity is a function of both temperature and precipitation, and Osoyoos is both hot and dry. Temperature is an important component of aridity which is why Tuscon, Arizona is much more arid than Barrow, Alaska despite the fact that it gets more precipitation.
Similarly, Osoyoos is more arid than the far north for the same reason, but Osoyoos is not the most arid place in British Columbia. This alone surprises people who have been brainwashed into believing that Osoyoos is the driest place in Canada. Places drier than Osoyoos in Canada include the prairies around Medicine Hat, Kamloops, Merritt, Spences Bridge, the Fraser Canyon north of Lillooet, and parts of the Chilcotin from Kleena Kleene to the Fraser river. Drier (less precipitation), but not necessarily more arid.
The driest place of all is Ashcroft, which averages just over 200 mm (8″) per year. By comparison, Osoyoos averages 323 mm (12.7″) per year. This is a substantial inequality that the marginal temperature difference cannot overcome.
Using either of the methods above places Ashcroft in the arid category. The graph below shows the aridity of various places in Canada using the Penman-Monteith method.
The Köppen climate classification also locates Ashcroft in the arid or desert category, and this map on Wikipedia confirms that.
So it is true that true desert exists in Canada, but it’s located 230 km to the northwest of Osoyoos in the village of Ashcroft. That’s why aliens, when they choose to visit us, crash in the Ashcroft area, and as we all know, UFOs always crash in “true deserts.” The X-files has documented such an event recently near Ashcroft.