Tofino weather: In Appreciation of Rain
by John Platenius and George Patterson, Tofino
You are likely standing on the Esowista Peninsula in the southern end of the Clayoquot Sound unesco Biosphere Reserve, one of the rainiest places on earth. In Tofino the average Rainfall is 135 inches per year, more than ten feet! I capitalise the r in rainfall out of respect, awe and a bit of fear. Dallas, Texas gets 36 inches/yr, Paris, France 23.9 inches, Hamburg enjoys 29.7 inches of rain.
September is our transition season into the Wet weather. Most of our Rainfall comes during the Winter, but Spring is very damp, and the Fall is pretty darn moist too. The expression "I'm bailing out of here" may have originated in Tofino, as many residents develop a desperate need for dry, sunny weather by late February.
Polar air masses migrate south in the autumn. Travelling for days across a relatively warm ocean, it warms and moistens. The Vancouver Island Mountain Range acts as a rainmaking device. As the air mass moves from the ocean towards the continent, the mountains force it up. As it rises it cools. Colder air can carry less water than warmer air, it condenses forming clouds or fog and perhaps (usually in our case) precipitation. The east side of Vancouver Island gets less than half the rain as the "Wet Coast".
The volume of water that falls upon the land is the prime ingredient in the extremely high biomass of our forests. The weight of living things, the trees, shrubs, mosses, insects, birds etc. in the temperate coastal rainforest is higher than any other type of forest in the world. Yes, even higher than tropical rainforests.
Now here's the punch line: We should be thanking this glorious Rain for Tofino's thriving tourism economy.
The Rain is what created and continually feeds the stunning, intact natural systems that most of our visitors are here for. As sea kayakers make their way over to Meares Island to see The Big Tree (one of the best visual examples of colossal biomass I can think of), they can silently thank Tofino's very Wet conditions for its glory. The temperate rainforest's highly productive environment (think Rain) also creates world-class habitat for multiple salmon species. Without these intact forests, salmon fisherman would be heading to the Charlottes. And of course the bears and marine mammals that draw families out for marine eco-tours are all dependent on these forests, which are reliant on... You guessed it - our glorious Rain.
You might be thinking that the forests would do ok without It. Maybe you're questioning my assumption that Rain is everything here. Perhaps. But a friend of mine recently told me about an experiment in the Amazon Basin that is testing this theory in tropical rainforests, so I looked it up.
Obviously rainforests need water to thrive, but what this Woods Hole Research Centre study found is that when the tropical rainforest dries out, there are much bigger implications than you might anticipate: a rainforest drought would likely increase the rate of Global Warming.
You probably remember photosynthesis from Grade 5 biology class. Plants use sunlight, water and the atmosphere's carbon dioxide to create sugar and oxygen. When the rainforest is denied that glorious Rain, the stomata of the forest's leaves close up to conserve water and valuable sugars, which slows down the rate at which they take carbon out of the atmosphere.
So as we make this transition into the long, lonely Wet season, try to remember a few things that may keep this year's annual return of Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay.
The Rain's bounty is the driving force behind the natural splendour of Clayoquot Sound. The big trees, salmon, whales and bears are all dependent on the Rain that feeds this beautiful eco-region. Most of Tofino's visitors (the lions-share of Tofino's economy) are here to see or experience the forests, animals and landscapes fed by this Rain. And strange as it may sound, without our wonderful Rain we'd likely spiral into a Global Warming cycle that could really give us something to complain about.
George Patterson is the Executive Director of the Tofino Botanical Gardens and John Platenius is the Director of Programs and Development at the Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation.