It’s Been so Dry in British Columbia this Year that the Relative Humidity is Literally Off the Charts!


June is typically the wettest month of the year in much of the interior of BC, but not in 2017. The month that is typified by unstable air, thunderstorms, and rain produced a rainless month for much of the Chilcotin and very little elsewhere in southern British Columbia.

2017 was beyond normal, especially on June 26th when a freak meteorological event pushed the relative humidity below 16% over a wide area several hundred kilometers across. One forestry station at Lone Butte even measured 1%!

This would be world record territory… but, did it really happen?

Before answering that, understand that most weather records never actually happened, not necessarily at individual stations, but at the level of states and provinces. For example, Ontario’s all-time record cold never happened nor did Newfoundland and Labrador’s all-time high temperature (I will explain why at a future date).

And those are temperature records, which are some of the more reliable variables we measure. Precipitation records, snow records, wind records, sunshine records, and others are all subject to error.

Humidity is especially problematic because automated weather stations do no have sensors that can reliably measure the relative humidity below 10%.

That’s not usually a problem since relative humidity readings below 16% are quite rare. If it does happen, it’s typically one or two stations, but on the 26th no less than 17 stations fellow below 16%, and many of those below 10%.

The air was so dry, it was literally off the charts. The humidity map below was generated from BC Forest Service weather stations which snapshots the data at 1pm PDT. Places like Alexis Creek recorded 7% for the day, but the lowest of the lot was Lone Butte which bottomed out at 1%.



What is relative humidity?

Relative humidity is basically a measure of the difference between the air temperature and the dew point. Dew point is an expression of the actual (not relative) moisture content of the air. Because air can hold more moisture as it warms, relative humidity drops even as the amount of moisture in the air stays the same. That’s why the relative humidity can be 100% in the morning and 30% in the afternoon without the amount of moisture in the air changing. Similarly, 30% humidity in the summer contains much more moisture in the air than 30% humidity in the winter. Actually, cold winter air is very dry even if it’s at 100%. In other words, when someone tries to tell you that cold moist air along the ocean “feels” colder than interior dry air at the same temperature, they’re mistaken. There’s almost no moisture in the air in either case, and certainly not enough to be able to physically detect. The reason it might “feel” colder on the coast is that there’s more wind.

Environment Canada has a number of stations around the red zone above, but instead of recording the relative humidity, stations will report an error when the temperature difference between the air and dew point is above a certain level. This is because Environment Canada is more concerned with accuracy than Forestry, and since extremely low humidity falls outside of the instrument’s specifications, the number is considered invalid. Given past and current measurements, it seems that the cut-off is 7% humidity.


The above map reveals that drawing a line from Lillooet to Clearwater cuts through an area entirely below 10%, but there are a number of reasons to question any measurement as reliable in that range. Chief among them is that hygrometers are glitchy below 10%.

Skipping Lillooet and Clearwater, I will just focus on Ashcroft and the two Clinton stations. Ashcroft is the most arid place in Canada with very low relative humidity in the summer afternoons, and the nearby village of Clinton has two stations, one of which measured 7% without breaking the hygrometer.

On a normal day the dew point remains stable throughout the day because the moisture in the air remains constant, but on June 26th, the dew point dropped 10 degrees in a single hour at Clinton. The other stations stopped working during the heat of the day because the air was too dry, but it stands to reason their dew points were similar.


Ashcroft is much hotter in the afternoon than Clinton, and especially the airport. This is because Clinton is close to 4,000 feet above sea level versus 1,000 ft for Ashcroft.


Back on May 13th, 2012, Ashcroft measured 7%. That was with a dew point of -10°C and an air temperature of 29°C. On June 26th, 2017, the measurement could not be made, but if we assume the dew point matched Clinton’s -13°C figure, and given the measured air temperature of 35°C, the relative humidity can be calculated to be 4%!

This is definitely possible, and would perhaps be a Canadian record, but how about the 1% reading at Lone Butte? Unlike Ashcroft, the plateau on which Lone Butte sits is not arid or semi-arid, so it’s almost certain that this value is fake. It’s more reasonable to peg the number at 7% because the elevation is similar to the Clinton airport. Even still, that’s almost unbelievable at that elevation and latitude.

As we enter into July, we are extremely dry under the scorching sun with high and extreme fire danger across the province, and yet, not a single weather station is recording relative humidity under 16%. That goes to show you how rare and unusual the June 26th event happened to be.



Posted in Climate | 3 Comments

How are heat warnings triggered in Canada?


Over the winter I produced a map showing the thresholds for triggering snowfall warnings in Canada, but now that summer is in full swing, it’s time to do the same for heat.

Environment Canada issued a “special weather statement” for southern British Columbia over the weekend because the temperature was expected to reach 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, but they issued no statement for the Cariboo region of the province even though the forecast was also calling for temperatures in the mid-30s.


My friends in Quesnel and Williams Lake were feeling left out, as they should. The above map gives the false impression that temperature was going to be cooler in the Cariboo than Vancouver and Cranbrook (Williams Lake and Quesnel were 34°C while Cranbrook was 31°C).

But that aside, Environment Canada has set different thresholds across the country for triggering a heat warning, and in addition, they can use their discretion to add warnings in special circumstances — say if it’s the first heat wave of the summer. In this case, they issued a “special weather statement” which is not the same thing as a “warning.” They do not issue heat warnings for most of BC for some reason even if the forecast was calling for 500°C. I guess they figure we’re tough, and can handle it.

Ignoring the fact that places like Cranbrook were never forecast to reach 35°C, it looks likely the red area was generated on account of being the first heat wave of the year. Don’t ask me why Williams Lake didn’t get included in the statement even though it was over 35°C in the valley bottom (the airport 1,000 feet above the city was 34°C).

Environment Canada defines 13 different sets of criteria for triggering a heat warning in Canada. Some make sense, but others should be revised. Why bother listing a threshold for Nunavut when it never gets remotely close to the trigger point (40°C) while not listing one for southern British Columbia where most summers exceed 40°C?

Perhaps the silliest of all is the convoluted criteria set for Vancouver and the South Coast. It takes the average of today’s 2pm temperature at the Vancouver or Abbotsford airports and tomorrow’s forecast high to determine if a warning is warranted. Surely, there’s a better way to trigger a warning!


Posted in Climate | 2 Comments

Okanagan Lake and the Tale of Two Records


Since mid-May, the Okanagan’s most popular news site has been running non-stop with one flood myth after another. I say “myth” because most stories are using mythical numbers.

The number fudging started on May 16th when the mayor of Kelowna went nuclear by warning the public that the lake cannot hold any more water because it’s at “full pool.” This is complete hogwash since the lake has a dam at the south end that regulates the flow of water to ensure “full pool” is exceeded every year.

The major drought of the 1930s forced the provincial government into regulating the flow out of the 100km long Okanagan Lake so that sufficient water would be available throughout the summer for users downstream. The minimum lake level regulators are tasked with achieving at high water is called “full pool.” Since forecasting the amount of freshet (misspelled as frechette by the grammatically challenged media) is difficult, assumptions are made in early spring based upon existing snowpack levels and a worst case scenario for precipitation.

Snowpacks were low over the winter, so the lake was allowed to rise more than would naturally be the case. Then the valley experienced the wettest Spring on record, so full pool was reached early.

And the water has kept on rising.


The projected height was 343m above sea level, and interestingly enough, the Castanet news source claimed that this point would match the all-time record from 1948. Several times between May 20th and May 24th, Castanet continued to claim that the old record was 343 m above sea level.

Then suddenly — just as it became apparent that the lake would shatter the 343m mark — Castanet changed its story by moving the goal posts up to 343.28m, which is just above the new forecast high. The cynic inside of me says that they needed to increase the record so they could milk this story for another week, but maybe there’s a less conspiratory explanation out there. Maybe, but I have my doubts because both numbers are actually wrong.

The official data is posted online for anyone with an internet connection to view. That government data shows the 1948 level peaked at 2.838m. This is relative to the low water line, so you have to add 340.236m (as the real-time data explains). This brings the 1948 level to 343.074m. Therefore, the new record was set already, although we can’t be too confident with that figure either since this government document from 1993 lists the record as 343.13m (see page 16 of report) while this government document from 2000 states the record as 343.25m as per the following screen shot of page 36.


So the government isn’t sure if the actual figure is 343.074m, 343.13m, or 343.25m while the media originally went with 343m only to change it to 343.28m once the first record was met.

Does anyone want to guess what the “real” record will be if the lake ever exceeds 343.28?

NB: You might be thinking that this is just a small town news outlet playing loose with the numbers, but national newspapers like the Globe and Mail are even worse!

UPDATE: The 2017 lake level peaked on June 11th at 343.27m above sea level.

Posted in Climate, Geography | 7 Comments

Speed Kills the Fake News Media

I was Googling something completely unrelated when I came across an article from 2016 that clashes with the government document upon which it’s based.

Here are the two conflicting headlines:


So who’s right?

The media loves spreading the false narrative that speed kills, but also established is the government’s proclivity to spread misinformation. For example, they produced a media release still available on their website promising to increase the speed limit  three years ago, but it never happened. (I should really keep a copy of this government release on my dash just in case I ever get pulled over for speeding along that section of highway 97.)

Given the two contrasting headlines, it might be intuitive to assume the Globe and Mail holds the correct version of events, but as the Speed Kills your Pockebook video rightly points out, increasing the speed limit can actually reduce the number of accidents if the maximum speed is set too low to begin with.


Here are the cold hard facts:

  • On seven sections, the rate of speed decreased and crashes decreased.
  • On 12 sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes decreased.
  • On seven sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes increased.
  • On the remaining seven sections, the data shows that the crash rate increased, despite motorists traveling slower than they did before the speed limits were increased.
  • In two of the sections with increased speeds and increased crashes, the government has since reduced the speed limits.

Assuming that resetting the two speed limits reversed the damage, only five of the remaining 31 sections (16%) experienced increased speeds and increased crashes.

To fairly assess the Globe and Mail article, three questions need to answered:

  1. Do faster speed limits correlate with more car crashes?
  2. Do faster speed limits correlate with more severe crashes?
  3. Do faster speed limits correlate with higher speeds?

The green areas of the above pie chart (39%) represent to highways where higher speeds correlate with more accidents. The remaining 61% show a direct correlation between higher speeds and fewer accidents.

Why raising the speed limits would reduce the average speeds in 42% of the roads raises a few questions about the quality of the data, or at least suggests that the speed changes were marginal.

But assuming the reduced average speeds were related to increased speed limits, and using the 31 highways were speed limits are remaining higher than before, the pie chart is repeated with the dark areas (61%) representing few accidents and the light areas (39%) representing fewer crashes.

Chalk up a win for the government headline for being the accurate headline. The media headline, by contrast, is meant to fuel the false narrative that higher speed limits not only correlate with higher accident rates, but cause more crashes to occur.

The virtue-signally Globe and Mail goes on to cherry-pick quotes to cement the headline into the reader’s mind. Chief among them is this nugget: “We got an 11 per cent, statistically significant increase in injury and fatal collisions following the implementation of the speed limit increase.”

This certainly puts forward the false narrative that raising the speed limit is a bad idea. Had they done the honest thing by completing the quote, the newspaper would have busted its own pet theory.

The data-driven government media release continues: “The UBC modelling is consistent with the 9% increase the province saw on all other British Columbian highways where the speed limits were not raised.

In other words, there’s very little difference between roads with increased speed limits and those without increased limits. The two percentage point difference is much smaller than the 11% given by the Globe and Mail, and likely not statistically significant. It could be because of bad weather during the year or it could be the fact that all the highways with increased limits were all in the south where the population is growing much faster.

Furthermore, it does not determine which of the 33 roads saw the increased fatality rates. My money is on the roads where the speed limits have been reduced.

Reading further into the government source shows that it just gets even worse for the Globe’s argument:

The one-year increase on B.C.’s highways is also consistent with the rising crash and fatality rates in places where speed limits have remained unchanged, as more people take to the road with lower gas prices and as distracted driving rates continue to climb. The United States, for example, saw a 14% increase in fatalities during the first six months of 2015. Oregon alone experienced a 59% spike during this period. Sweden – known for having some of the safest roads in the world – saw a 4% increase in the number of fatalities in 2014.

The media plays an important job in society by holding the government to account for its actions, but that’s no excuse to warp reality and produce fake news. All that does is undermine the media’s effectiveness when the government screws up for real.

Higher speed limits do correlate with higher speeds, but the correlation is not as significant as you’d expect with just 58% of roadways showing higher speeds afterwards while the remain 42% of roads saw decreased average speeds.

Research tells us that speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile of traffic. Since raising the speeds decreased the accident rates, most of the limits were set too low.

The fake news media concluded the opposite.

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British Columbia’s Confusing Political Make-Up


When I tell my friends from outside British Columbia that an election took place this month featuring the NDP (New Democratic Party), the Liberals, and the Greens as the three main parties, I get bewildered stares. Even within the province, there’s some confusion.

The outside observer is left wondering how the three largest parties are left-wing when democracies don’t operate with a single wing.

I like to mystify my audience further by inserting the fact that the Conservatives was the most poplar political party in the province during the 2011 Federal Election. This statement leaves my audience perplexed, especially when I tell them that the BC Conservative Party won just 0.5% of the vote in the recent 2017 provincial election.

The obvious truth here is that the BC Liberals are not liberal as we generally understand it to mean in Canada today. That is to say, they are are not left of center.

But how did this happen?

Our journey begins back in 1952 when British Columbia experimented with electoral reform. The two main parties at the time, the Conservatives and the Liberals, joined forces by bringing in preferential balloting (similar to what Justin Trudeau was hoping for nationally, and likely for the same reason).

The object of this electoral reform was to keep the rising socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation  (CCF) out of power. The center-right conservatives assumed the Liberals would pick them as their second choice and the center-left Liberals were equally optimistic that they would get the center-right second choice votes.

It backfired big time as both parties were utterly decimated to 3rd and 4th party status. Meanwhile, the socially conservative British Columbia Social Credit League (afterwards referred to as Social Credit) was swept into power as they captured the lion’s share of the second place votes from among both the Liberals and Conservatives. The traditional parties didn’t count on voters playing games by chosing a 4th string party as the means of defeating the main rival across the political isle.

Social Credit only beat the CCF by a single seat, and thus formed a minority government since the Liberals and Conservatives also won seats. A new election occurred in 1953, at which point W.A.C. Bennett won a majority government for Social Credit.

Elections reverted back to the old system of winner take all in each riding/electoral district, and Social Credit ruled for most of the next four decades with the CCF — renamed the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 1960s — as the only main alternative.

Because a First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system tends to produce two main moderate parties, the Liberals and Conservatives largely jumped ship over to the two main parties dominating the political landscape, but that all changed with the populist and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, Bill Vander Zalm, unintentionally destroyed Social Credit within three years of becoming Premier.

Populists are a somewhat newer brand of politician who believe that right or wrong is irrelevant in the traditional sense. What is most important is to tell voters what they want to hear and try to give voters what it is they really want, or at least think they want. In theory this sounds great, but the problem is that people want the world without having to have to pay for anything.

Populists are not far left or far right or even centrist. Rather, they are political chameleons who look at the direction of the wind, and then jump out in front of the crowd to become the movement’s leader.

“I cut across party lines. When I have town-hall meetings I have New Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, I have Green Party members, Refederation Party people. They are all there.” – Bill Vander Zalm in an interview with the South Delta Leader in May of 2010

This quote comes more than two decades after Vander Zalm left office in disgrace as he was in the middle of sucking the people of British Columbia into eliminating the HST (harmonized sales tax). He never mentioned that fact that the replacement taxes would be less efficient or that the tax payers were going to give him a tax break on his luxury yacht moorage and golf green fees while they themselves would pay more tax for supplies on home repairs.

Bill Vander Zalm was instrumental in eliminating the HST. Similarly, his time in office was every bit destructive for the province.

At the beginning of his political career, “the Zalm” was a supporter of both the Liberal Party of Canada and the BC Liberal Party. He jumped at Trudeau Mania in 1968 when he ran as a federal Liberal in Surrey. He lost by 5,000 votes. He was also a candidate at the 1972 provincial Liberal leadership convention, where he lost to David Anderson. After joining the BC Social Credit Party in 1974, Vander Zalm was elected into government the following year, and then Premier in 1986.

Much like how the Liberals and Conservative tried in vain to rig the election in their favour in the 1950s, everything Vander Zalm ever tried to manipulate backfired.

He tried to destroy the teacher’s unions by forcing them to chose between province-wide unionization as the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) or forming an association. As much as many teachers didn’t like the idea of the BCTF, they voted for it anyway because the alternative was worse. The legacy of Vander Zalm’s manipulation has led to decades of political unrest with the teachers and the single most negative and destructive influence on public education in British Columbia’s history.

Vander Zalm also introduced the Property Purchasers Tax (without consultation) that has contributed to making housing in British Columbia the most expensive in Canada.

A third disaster he brought it was run-of-the-river projects that were touted as “low cost and green,” but were neither.

His final undoing arose when it was discovered that he used tax payer’s money to sell his multi-million dollar Fantasy Gardens.

The height of Social Credit was a political coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and federal liberals who were united (in the words of W.A.C. Bennett) “to keep the socialist hordes behind the gates of Hell where they belong.” Bill Vander Zalm fractured the coalition with the above policies while pursuing the hot button issue of abortion (the one time he broke with populism), and  finally, to be caught in a conflict of interest.

During the 1991 election, most of Social Credit’s supporters were jumping ship as Bill Vander Zalm’s divisiveness in combination with the stellar debate performance from the Liberal Leader, Gordon Wilson, who — in a single phrase during the televised leader’s debate — took the party from obscurity to 2nd place behind the NDP.

“Here’s a classic example of why nothing ever gets done in the province of British Columbia,” he quipped as the NDP’s Mike Harcourt and Rita Johnson of Social Credit were exchanging barbs.

Suddenly, a left-of center party was supported by right-of-center voters as they piled over from Social Credit. Guess what happens.

A coup!

The opportune moment came just two years later in 1993 when Gordon Wilson was caught in an extramarital affair. Wilson lost the leadership of the party to the conservative Gordon Campbell. Wilson promptly left the Liberals to form a new party.

The NDP stayed in power for 10 years in British Columbia, and BC Liberals are still claiming the 1990s as the “lost decade.” The right has vowed to stay united, which is why you will often hear Christy Clark and other members of the Liberal Party today advertise themselves as the “free-enterprise coalition.”

So, BC Liberals = Social Credit = Federal Conservatives + right flank of the Federal Liberals.

That covers the history of the Liberals in BC, though it’s only scratching the surface of British Columbia politics. Outside observers are also wondering how the Greens are more than just a fringe party, but that’s a discussion for another day.


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What Women Want

Jordan Peterson explaining what women want.

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How to Fix the Housing Crisis in BC


It seems that every year there are fewer and fewer places to rent, and as everyone knows, decreased supply invariably means increased rents. This has an especially negative impact on those at the bottom 30% of the economic spectrum.

The latest stab at fixing the problem comes via the federal government as they promise to blow another 4 billion on housing over the next few years.

In addition to public money, governments have been trying to coerce homeowners into renting out their places, but to no avail. Renting out your place incurs risk that many homeowners don’t want to take. Bad renters are rampant, and the law is often against the landlord when things go sideways.

This stick approach will not solve the problem. All it does is kick the can down the road, saddling the next generation with even more government debt.

Solving the rental shortage in a real way needs more carrot and less stick. That is say, finding ways of providing benefits to the landlord without hurting renters. Here’s one idea: eliminate income tax on rental income, at least under a certain threshold.The last thing they need to do is increase the tax burden on Canadians looking to rent out their basements as the feds are keen to do now. This will only restrict supply even further. Make no mistake about it, any extra costs the government puts on landlords will be passed on to tenants in the long run.

At the very least, the government needs to bring back the incentives available 30 years ago that led to the apartment housing boom in the first place. Affordable housing is driven by apartment buildings, and most of those in use today were built in the 1970s and 1980s. That means that many of these buildings are nearing the end of life, so the crunch will only get worse without real incentives to invest in housing.

Back in the 1980s rental apartments were shooting up like mushrooms because the federal government provided incentive to developers to expand the rental market, which in turn, drove down prices for low income citizens. The old provisions of the Income Tax Act allowed investors (not real estate developers) to acquire (or build) qualifying rental units.

Under the program, investors could take generous capital cost allowance losses of 10% per year, and apply these loses to other income they had earned. From the government’s perspective, too many investors eventually became more interested in the tax breaks than actually maintaining housing for the most vulnerable in society.  As a result, the program was cut back over the years until being turfed entirely in 1988. But there’s no question the policy worked. Large swaths of housing projects were built, such that most relatively affordable apartment buildings use use today stem from this legacy.

This tax change was at the federal level, but provincially, policy has not been much better. British Columbia has some of the most expensive rents in Canada thanks to Bill Vander Zalm, the Premier responsible for creating the Property Purchasers Tax.

There are some smaller measures the governments could do to drive down rental costs. For one, the elimination of sales taxes on house related services — contractors, roofers, painters, etc. as is the case with food — would lower the costs associated with operating rental housing.

But most significantly, bring back the generous CCA similar to that of the 1980s as a means of reversing the housing crunch. History shows us that this would incentivize builders to favour rental apartments over the more expensive, lower occupancy housing we see going up today.

In addition to all that, there’s another important factor driving high housing costs — centralization. Starting in the 1980s, governments — and then later, private enterprises — started centralizing.

Rural forestry offices started closing, small town weather offices have all closed, tax assessment offices have closed, health care services have centralized to larger centres, etc. These changes have had an indirect impact on rural communities. Schools shrink in size, and young families move away before the school closes. Then the school closes because there are no longer school age children around.

This has led to the bigger getting bigger and the small smaller. That’s why Whitehorse accounts for more than 110% of the population growth in the Yukon (the smaller towns are shrinking while Whitehorse is busting at the seams).

The irony here is two fold. First, that experts predicted that the internet age would allow small and remote communities to thrive as people could work remotely when in reality, the reverse has happened. Second, land values continue to escalate in Vancouver and Toronto while smaller towns, even ones on Vancouver Island with nice climates, have extremely low housing costs with no people to fill vacant homes.

Perhaps the solution should not just focus on the large cities, but also on more evenly distributing the population growth across Canada. After all, it’s the rapid population growth in urban centres that’s driving up demand beyond what can be sustained. If the governments would spend time crafting policies to encourage small town growth, this would alleviate some of the demand for housing in the big cities.

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