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Nanaimo poised to break records after lack of rain

Tinder-dry city has seen just a mere 0.6 millimetres of rain so far in September

Darrell Bellaart, Nanaimo Daily News, September 20, 2012

An unusually dry summer has Nanaimo poised to break records for below average rainfall.

Environment Canada measured just 0.6 millimetres of rain this month, and 6.4 millimetres in August.

That low enough to beat all records for the same period as far back as the record books show for the area. It’s a trend meteorologists are seeing across B.C.

Nanaimo sees record September drought

Fortunately, a cooler than normal spring allowed the city waterworks department to keep reserves stocked through the mid-summer, sparing any emergency. But the dryness is so severe it has provincial forestry personnel on the alert for fire in tinder-dry woods.

Nanaimo precipitation records only go back to 1947, and records won’t officially be broken until month end.

With a high pressure system stationed over the coast, all indications point to that happening.

“We’ve got a shot at it,” said David Jones, Environment Canada meteorologist. “To at least Friday the 28th there’s a good possibility we won’t see anything. It looks like we’ve got a shot at the driest (two months) on record.”

The arid conditions were a factor in a fire that sprang up along the E&N Rail corridor at Dorman Road on Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters suspect a spark from a train brake ignited the fire, which spread quickly through scrub growing alongside the tracks, threatening cars parked on McCullough Road outside the offices of the Daily News.

Record dry years were 1998, with 9.1 millimetres in those two months, 1987, with 9.9 millimetres, 1993 with 19.7 millimetres and 1974, when 15.3 millimetres of total precipitation fell.

It’s a concern for provincial forest officials, since trees lose their protection from fire during extended dry periods, heightening risk of a major blaze on Vancouver Island.

“We’re seeing big trees (become) really dry and it’s going to take a heavy rain to get down into the root zone so these trees can soak it up,” said Donna MacPherson, Coastal Fire Service spokeswoman. “That means fires that would happen now would engage big trees.”

She urged outdoor recreation users to ensure campfires are out.

City reservoirs remain in good supply despite the drought.

A cool, damp spring kept the main Jump Lake reservoir full into mid-July, and fewer homeowners appear to be watering their lawns, said Bill Sims, city water resources manager.

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