I read the newspaper in the waning glow of a headlamp. “Bob Dylan just got the Nobel Prize for literature,” I told her. “You think Kanye will say it should have gone to Beyoncé?”
“I don’t know,” came the reply from the darkness. “Are you going to keep this up all night?”
“Story here says Victoria is the best place in Canada to be a woman,” I continued. “On a scale of one to 10, how lucky do you feel right now?”
“Please stop talking.”
“They keep writing about ‘creepy clowns.’ Isn’t that redundant, like ‘tuna fish?’ ”
“I can’t believe you remembered the newspaper, but forgot a can opener.”
“If they changed the name of The Bachelorette to The Spinster, would it still be popular?”
“Really, how long do we have to stay down here?”
Good question. As I write this, we are hunkered in our Y2K bunker, the one I dug deep under the wood pile in 1999 while waiting for the world to end (which, unfortunately, it didn’t, leading to a rather awkward misunderstanding with Visa and MasterCard).
Why are we down here? Because we are awaiting the last of what we were warned would be three increasingly powerful storms to lash the coast this week. That makes four so far this month. What’s going on? It’s not unusual for Victoria to get hammered with winter storms, but four in the first half of October is like going bald at age 19: It’s way too early.
The first tempest turned out to be a bit of a non-event, much to the embarrassment of all those who bolted from work in mid-afternoon, clogging the commuter routes like the roads from panicked Paris in 1940.
The next blast was more muscular, a real soaker. We were even awakened by some monster-movie lightning on Friday, as rare in Victoria as snowmobiles and block heaters. The winds stopped just shy of what was needed to send the flying cow from Twister cartwheeling past your windshield.
The third storm? Don’t know. Having hunkered in the bunker when the winds began to pick up Saturday, it’s hard to tell. Maybe it lived up to the warnings and brought us Armageddon (as in “Armageddon on the next plane to California when the airport reopens”). Maybe it blew through having done little more than send you off on a hunt for your garbage can lid.
When weather warnings fizzle, we see smirking Internet memes with the words “Victoria: We will rebuild” layered atop pictures of an inverted umbrella. There’s lots of chortling about skittish weather forecasters and media hype.
OK, but which would you prefer — to be prepared for a catastrophe that doesn’t happen, or unprepared for one that does?
Twenty years ago next week, on Oct. 17, 1996, Victoria was hammered by what was called a “weather bomb” — a low-pressure system that intensifies rapidly. Docks were ripped apart, boats crashed onto the rocks, the wind flipped a car on the Patricia Bay Highway and trees toppled in Pioneer Cemetery, exposing century-old coffins. Described by some as the worst storm to hit since hurricane Freda in 1962, it packed winds of 161 kilometres an hour at the northern tip of Vancouver Island and pushed waves as high as 30 metres, according to Environment Canada.
There wasn’t a word of warning in that day’s TC. The weather-page forecast was cloudy with a bit of rain and winds of 40 to 60 km/h.
Likewise, two months later we ho-hummed our way into the Blizzard of ’96, a calamity whose mention still sends some Victorians groping for the Ativan.
Also consider this: A storm that’s little more than an inconvenience for those who are fortunate enough to have a roof and a fireplace is a real threat to those who can’t get away from the unrelenting rain and wind. For some, weather warnings are more than a reminder to stock up on candles. Imagine being homeless. Imagine being Haitian. Not everyone gets to ride out the storm in a bunker.
PS: It wouldn’t hurt to say thanks to the people who climb the power poles to restore electricity. If it weren’t for them, we’d all be two days away from Lord of the Flies (written by William Golding, the Nobel Laureate 33 years before Dylan).
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