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Viewpoint: Wildfire forecast disappointing but response commendable

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere
A BC Wildfire Service firefighter works to halt southward movement of the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire towards residential structures Wednesday night, Aug. 2, 2023. (BC Wildfire Service photo)

It’s no secret “the weather” has long been a favoured topic of talk among Canadians.

The subject offers common ground, a shared experience. Increasingly, it brings extremes that can be awe-inspiring, oppressive and/or downright distressing.

Another interesting attribute of weather is its fluidity – how it is simultaneously predictable and capricious. This is why weather forecasts for one location can be adjusted multiple times in the course of a day.

Often this summer I’ve been disappointed when rainfall predicted three or more days out didn’t come to fruition. Which is silly, because I understand our atmosphere is a complex system, that there are many variables to account for, and that data-driven prediction is subject to error, human or other.

As the Canadian website Let’s Talk Science explains, “weather models are only representations and approximations of reality. They don’t account for all of the variables (factors) that may affect the weather. And researchers are still learning about many of the processes that affect the weather.”

BC Wildfire Service Information Officer Forrest Tower spoke to this in an Aug. 3 public meeting hosted online by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. He suggested copying down the details of a seven day weather forecast and seeing how it has panned out by day 7.

“I think everyone understands weather can be forecasted for a day out super decently, and then after that it changes,” said Tower as he endeavoured to explain why the BC Wildfire Service’s Tuesday projections, that determined the Lower East Adams Lake wildfire posed no imminent threat to structures, didn’t anticipate the strong northerly wind that blew the blaze south towards residences Wednesday evening, Aug. 2.

“That happens in wildfires, it happens in any sort of thing that can be influenced by the weather – things can be influenced by so many variables…,” said Tower.

Tower also noted the mobilization of firefighting resources that occurred when the weather began to stray from those projections. Speaking of awe-inspiring, the BC Wildfire Service released a video from that night’s effort that prevented the fire from reaching structures.

With a wildfire a relative short distance away, you want accurate, timely information, not an assurance that all should be fine – only to be told a short time later you must evacuate. That makes absolute sense. At the same time, when it comes to the weather and its influence on fire behaviour, you should always keep in mind how things can change on a dime.

As they say, hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

I see rain is in the forecast, but it’s only a 30- to 40-per cent chance, so I’ll try not to get my hopes up.

Read more: VIDEO: No structures lost in Lower East Adams Lake blaze

Read more: Extreme weather risk changing Canada’s insurance industry, raising costs
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