Fogust in Tofino
by Lily McLean and Drew Burke, Tofino
August, summer's last great kick at the can. Talking to Mom on the phone, I learn that it's another gorgeous day in Nanaimo: high twenties and on the rise, doors and windows are thrown wide open, flip-flops and sunhats everywhere! A quick glance out my window and I'm reminded that out here August is pronounced Fogust. I shake my head woefully, say goodbye to Mom, and zip up my hoody on the way out to join the damp cedars in the yard outside.
I pull my soggy wetsuit down off the rack knowing that my morning surf-check will depend on my ears as I stand at the water's edge and attempt to listen through the fog for good waves. Now I could mumble and mutter and get mad that it's gray here while the rest of the Island languishes under that beautiful golden orb in the sky, but I know there's a reason for everything. Besides, a week of whining hasn't helped one bit. But as I load my board in my truck, I can't help wondering why Tofino and Ucluelet chill out under blankets of fog while the eastern coast of Vancouver Island enjoys an August of warmth and clear blue skies?
Fog occurs when a decrease in air temperature or addition of moisture to the air causes the water vapour in the air to condense into water droplets. There are two types of summer fog on our peninsula: advection fog and radiation fog.
Advection fog forms when wind pushes relatively warmer air over a cooler body of water causing the air temperature to drop and the moisture it carries to reach the dew point temperature and condense to form fog. The west coast of Vancouver Island is a haven for fog in August because the California Current and the North Pacific High keep our coastal waters cold. The California Current moves cool northern waters southward as it travels from southern British Columbia down to Baja, Mexico while the North Pacific High, a semi-permanent area of high-pressure located over the Pacific Ocean, causes an upwelling of cold water by pushing ocean water south and away from the coast.
Advection fog typically moves into Tofino and Ucluelet after hot, sunny days when on-shore sea-breezes develop as a result of the temperature differences between the land and water. Sunny days heat the land causing the warm air in Tofino to rise. As the warmer air ascends, it is gradually replaced by the cooler ocean air, which draws the fog across the water and into town.
Radiation fog forms on cool, clear nights as the temperature of the land drops and brings the air temperature down to dew point temperature, causing water vapour in the air to condense into fog. Radiation fog is generally short-lived, usually burning off soon after dawn as the sun's warmth evaporates the droplets of fog into water vapour.
In August of 2006, Environment Canada recorded 19 foggy days in Tofino, but what is it that makes this particular month so foggy? The reason is that the highest amount of relative humidity occurs in August, rather than any other month of the year, because August has the highest average temperature and warm air hold more water than cold air. Heavily saturated air, like ours in August, reaches its dew point temperature easily which allows for condensation and the formation of fog.
Although we may tend to lament August fog, it plays an important part in the ecology of our environment. During summer months when rain is less common fog provides our temperate rainforests with moisture. Fog condenses on the needles of coniferous trees causing water droplets to fall to the soil below. In fact, this 'fog drip' accounts for approximately 35% of Tofino's annual precipitation. Further, nutrient-rich sediment accompanies the upwelling of seawater as the North Pacific High brings cold water from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. This ocean water is highly productive and helps support marine animal populations such as whales, seabirds, and many important fisheries.
Even though I often long for the clear hot days of classic summer in August, it's things like fog that make this place as beautiful and jam-packed with life as it is. So I'm just going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the next time you take a walk through the temperate rainforests of our area you take a deep breath, close your eyes, and see if you can hear the 'fog drip' feeding all the life out there. And who knows, maybe all that listening will give you just the edge your ears need to sound out that shoulder-high right-hander peeling out there in the fog.
To learn more about fog and other interesting information about this area come visit the Raincoast Interpretive Centre at 451 Main Street. The Centre features beautiful hand-crafted displays, a resource library full of interesting information, interpretive programs for all ages, and evening guest speakers.
Where can you find us?
Upstairs in the
big yellow building:
451 Main Street
Phone (250) 725-2560