July 2019 for Smithers “almost record breaking” says climatologist

David Phillips could only find one year with both more total precipitation and number of wet days

You could sum up last month in a word: rainy.

The month was wetter-than-average: the fifteenth-wettest on record in terms of total precipitation with around 68 millimetres of rain, as opposed to the historical average of 46.

However the real story wasn’t the total precipitation, but rather the number of wet days, David Phillips, a senior climatologist for Environment Canada told The Interior News.

“It was really the number of days with rain and that was almost record-breaking,” he said.

READ MORE: Two 95-year-old warm weather records broken in B.C.

This past July, Smithers had 20 “wet” days and 11 “dry” ones, terms denoting whether or not there was precipitation on a day in question.

“Even in the wettest July back in I think 1964 [there was] 115 millimeters of rain … but they only had 17 days where you had measurable rain,” said Phillips, noting that virtually all the years with more total precipitation than this past July still had less wet days.

“There were only 11 days that were dry days this past July and 20 wet days, which is quite something,” Phillips said. When you look back over those 14 other wetter years I found dry days numbered 13, 17, 13, 14, you know, that kind of thing.”

In fact, Phillips said he could only find one year — July 1983 — where there was both more total precipitation as well as more total wet days.

In that year, Smithers experienced approximately 82 millimetres of rain and 22 wet days for the month.

“It was almost like the water torture test and I think that, in many ways, that’s what this July was like,” said Phillips, noting that this past July’s weather was similar to the wetter conditions normally found in late May or June and often colloquially referred to as the “June Bloom” and that the temperature itself was actually about a half a degree warmer than normal.

READ MORE: Dozens of B.C. temperature records smashed as spring brings early warmth

He said where the month might have seemed particularly rainy, it was in the psychological sense that even if there weren’t record-breaking amounts of precipitation, there was very little reprieve in terms of sunny days for a traditionally drier month.

“It wasn’t a cold rain but it was like a pissy poor kind of situation in the sense that there were a lot of days that just day after day you saw the rain,” Phillips said.

Despite the month’s perhaps unconventional environmental backdrop, Philips said it could have the positive effect of reducing the number and overall risk of wildfires this summer.

In a 2019 wildfire season outlook released in June, the Province predicted above-normal fire conditions for the northern and southwestern portions of British Columbia.

However Phillips said a wetter-than-average July, as well as consistent precipitation throughout most of June, could have a mitigating effect.

He added this means a different sort of summer than what people in the Bulkley Valley might typically be used to.

In June, Environment Canada had predicted this summer would be a relatively bad one in terms of total number of wildfires. However an increase in precipitation versus what was predicted has led to a relatively uneventful wildfire season compared to the particularly-bad ones of previous years.

“I think that what we’ve seen is really an absence of the fire threat across the entire province,” said Phillips, noting the relatively-worse challenges the Province faced in the 2018 and 2017 wildfire seasons.

“[They] had evacuations and, in some cases, were fighting fires from the tip of the north of the province to the deep in the south. It was everywhere.

“There’s been a few in the Okanagan in the last week but they’re nothing compared to what we saw last year and the year before.”

But Phillips was also quick to caution one year does not equal a trend.

“It’s not as if I would say that it’s more indicative of the future … this year might be an anomaly in a sense.”

And while the Bulkley Valley has had a relatively quiet wildfire season, Phillips also pointed out August is traditionally the worst month for wildfires in the Province, noting that 2018’s wildfire season was a bit of an anomaly in that it started earlier than usual and finished later.

Furthermore, he said that higher-than-average temperatures and lower-than-normal rainfall over the last two weeks are another factor that illustrates how the region might not be done with its wildfire season.

“My sense is you’re not out of the woods yet. It’s not enough to suggest that you’re going to escape this year without a forest fire issue. But the good news is that up to this time that you’ve had enough days with rain and [while] the forest cover is not saturated, it’s certainly wet.

“So I think that that could encourage the lack of a spread of fires. And so in many ways the kind of miserable July — if you’re thinking it was miserable — that really has saved yourselves in terms of perhaps a very quiet forest fire season now.”

On a more positive note, according to Phillips current weather models are predicting warmer-than-normal weather for mid-August to mid-September, something he said — on top of wildfire season — could have an impact on how much “patio weather” can be expected over the next few months.

“It could be that the best summer weather is ahead of you and not behind you. The last part of summer may be, in fact, better for beer drinking and muscle shirts … than what you’ve had so far.”

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