You are on page 1of 14

Extreme Weather Events in the Greater Vancouver Area: High Temperatures and

Heavy Rainfall

Andrew Chan
Jade Frizzell
Catriona Leven

1.0 Introduction
In Canadian news, weather is a fairly frequent topic of reporting. We judged that high
temperatures and heavy rainfall are the most frequent topics of weather news reports in
Vancouver, and thus presumably the events that people are most concerned by. We therefore
chose to investigate temperatures and rainfall within our research question: has the occurrence of
extreme temperature and rainfall events changed in Greater Vancouver over the last century?
Both of these weather events result in impacts to residents in the Greater Vancouver area.
In the summer of 2009, Greater Vancouver experienced hotter than usual weather: on July 30th,
temperatures of 34.4oC were recorded at Vancouver International Airport, and the week between
July 27th and August 2nd was identified as the hottest week of the year (Kosatsky et al., 2012).
With the previous record having been 33.3oC in July 1960, this set a new record high for the area.
The 1999 - 2008 average maximum temperature for the same dates is 21oC (Kosatsky et al.,
British Columbias rapid mortality surveillance system indicated that shortly after the
onset of the hot weather, there was a 40% increase in deaths within the Greater Vancouver area
(Kosatsky et al., 2012). Kosatsky et al. (2012) also indicated that there were higher proportions
of deaths related to heat in the 2009 hot weather period than at the same time in previous years.
The heat wave also resulted in electrical storms, in turn resulting in a BC fire risk of High or
Extreme, and forest fires (CBC News, 2009).
Vancouver also experiences a relatively high average rainfall of 1153 mm a year
(Environment Canada, 2009); rainfall warnings are issued in British Columbia when more than
50 mm of rain is expected within 24 hours (Environment Canada, 2014). In November 2014, 80
mm of rain overnight resulted in flooding in the North Shore. Houses were flooded and
emergency vehicles were left unable to respond due to high water. In 2005, heavy rain caused a
mudslide that resulted in the death of a woman (CTV News, 2014).
This question is therefore both important and interesting. If extreme weather events like
these are increasing, then Greater Vancouver needs to be able to prepare and plan for this.
Vancouver currently has a Climate Adaptation Strategy and an Extreme Weather Response Plan,

but the success of these depends both upon the measures contained within and the accuracy of
the predications that they are based upon.
1.1 Data Set
The data utilised was from Environment Canada, who monitor weather across Canada
from staffed and unstaffed stations, and include observations from contributing organisations
such as NAV CANADA, the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Coast Guard.
This data is freely available on their website, from, where yearly
historical data can be downloaded for stations across Canada. The station we chose - Vancouver
International Airport - had records going back to 1937. We downloaded the data for each year
between 1937 and 2012 separately and then collated it into five-year periods, as well as a single
data file for all 75 years.
From all the downloaded data - which included data for temperature, humidity and so on
- we used maximum daily temperature and daily rainfall values, as these were the most relevant
to our question. We have no information on how this data was actually collected, as the
downloaded metadata did not tell us, nor do we have any information about whether it was
checked for accuracy or for anomalies.
The data we used for our analysis therefore represents 75 years of daily rainfall and
maximum daily temperature data from a single site in Vancouver.
2.0 Analysis and Results
The purpose of our analysis was to examine changes for high temperature and heavy
rainfall events, identify long term trends and recognize limitations in the available data for
temperature and rainfall in the Greater Vancouver area. Using a total time period of 75 years,
daily temperature and total rainfall values were extracted and divided into five year periods.
Similar to other studies on severe weather events, we defined threshold values to indicate high
temperature and rainfall, and isolated values above our thresholds. By analyzing values above
our threshold, we determined the relative frequency of high temperature and rainfall events
separately for each five year period. As a result, we were able to suggest possible changes and
trends in the occurrence of extreme weather events over the last seventy-five years.

While analyzing the data, there were three underlying assumptions related to the station
that we had to consider. Since we only extracted data from one station, we assumed that spatial
variability would not affect our analysis and that the station accurately represented the entire
Greater Vancouver area. Furthermore, we assumed that filters had been applied to the datasets
because information regarding instrument maintenance and changes were not described in the
metadata. Significant instrument errors can affect the accuracy of the data randomly and
systematically. Rain gauges, for example, often have issues such as under catching, evaporative
loss, leaves clogging the funnel, and snow capping. Similarly, other changes, such as instrument
replacements, changes to the environment and inaccurate calibrations can also affect the
accuracy of the recordings (Jakob et al., 2013). Many of these underlying assumptions depend
on corrections and filters applied to the datasets, which are often applied in order to take into
account systematic errors that can significantly impact results (Jakob et al., 2013).
In preparing the dataset for analysis, daily temperature and rainfall values from 19372012 were extracted from Environment Canadas website as CSV files and plotted using
MATLAB and Excel. Only two columns for daily maximum temperature and total rainfall were
isolated, which underwent a similar type of analysis using best fit lines, R 2 values and relative
frequencies. Using MATLAB, a script was written to extract these two columns from Excel and
fill in any missing data points with NaN values (Appendix A). Two scatter plots were created
in MATLAB for the total time period from 1937-2012 for the daily maximum temperature
(Figure 1) and daily total rainfall (Figure 2). As shown in Appendix A, at the end of the script,
the two columns were filtered for threshold values of 29o C and 50 mm. As shown in Figure 3
and Figure 4, since we could not divide the years evenly, 2012 was omitted for the frequency
graphs. Next, threshold values were graphed and a best fit line was added to see if there was any
relationship between the occurrence of events and each five year period. As shown in Appendix
B, using Excel, the values which crossed the threshold were listed in two relative frequency
While interpreting our results, we made a number of changes comparing different time
frames. Initially, our study compared two time periods for daily maximum temperatures and
daily rainfall values for the years 1937-1941 and 2008-2012. Since data from a total of ten years

would only represent a shorter cycle, our analysis would be insufficient for making inferences
over a longer time period. To examine a longer cycle, we extended our dataset to 75 years and
compared the frequency in the occurrence of events for five year periods. For temperature and
precipitation, we made two scatter plots and did not plot trend lines on the graphs because we
were only interested in the maximum values. Instead, threshold values were used in order to
extract maximum values. Furthermore, we did not apply a running filter because a filter would
take out higher frequency components in the data. As well, for precipitation, we could not
calculate the Exceedance Probability (Gumbel Distribution) for our threshold value because a
number of conditions were not met. For example, we could not assume events were generated by
the same process or that the time series was stationary (Jakob et al., 2013). In fact, the significant
change in data quality before 1978, suggested a change in the stations instrument or
environment (Figure 1). Consequently, we decided to use a general type of statistical analysis
that would work for both temperature and rainfall, showing the relationship between the relative
frequency of extreme events and five year time periods (Appendix B). Our analysis of the 75
year period allowed us to compare the change in the probability of high temperature and heavy
rainfall events in the Greater Vancouver Area, without relying on many assumptions used by
other statistical methods of analysis such as the Gumbel Distribution.
For temperature, a total of 47 days went over the threshold value of 29 o C (Figure 1).
After we added a best fit line, a low R 2 value of 0.0339 suggested a non-linear relationship
between the frequency of occurrences and each five year period (Figure 3). As seen in Appendix
B, the maximum number of high temperature days in a five year period was six days and the
relative frequencies for each five year period varied from 0 to 0.14. For rainfall, the daily values
went over the threshold value a total of 27 days (Figure 2). On the rainfall graph, a low R 2 value
of 0.2197 was calculated from the best fit line, which suggested a moderate relationship between
the occurrence of high rainfall events and each five year period (Figure 4). As Appendix B
shows, the maximum number of heavy rainfall days in a five year period was five days and the
relative frequency of rainfall varied from 0 to 0.18.

2.1 Discussion:
From our data analysis, we cannot say that there has been a change in the occurrence of
extreme weather events in the form of high temperatures or rainfall between 1937 and 2012.
Though this is not the 100 year time-period that our original question and task asks for, we are
limited by the data that we have used.
As seen in Figure 3, there is little correlation between time - represented in five year
periods - and extreme temperatures of over 29 C. The R2 value is 0.0339, representing a lack of
relationship between the X-variable (time) and the Y-variable (temperature). A total of 47 days
went over our temperature threshold (Figure 1), but there does not seem to be a pattern in the
distribution of those days. There is no trend that can be seen, and extreme weather events are not
increasing or decreasing in occurrence during the studied time period.
The Canadian Climate Normals show that mean temperature has increased, with the 1961
- 1990 highest mean temperature being 17.4 oC, recorded in July and August, while the 1981 2010 highest mean temperature is 18oC in July and August (Environment Canada, 2009). This is
an increase of 0.6oC, and while without statistical testing it is difficult to say if this is significant
or not, this superficially does suggest that Vancouver is warming. Many studies link extreme
temperature - and other weather - events and climate change (such as Yang et al., 2015 and
Christidis et al., 2015), however perhaps in Vancouver climate change will in fact have more of
an influence on mean temperature rather than extreme temperature. This could also be an artefact
of the station that we used for our data, and so further research in this area should be performed
to determine if this is the case.
Evidence has been found in many cities, including Vancouver, for high temperature
fluctuations in short periods of time within urban areas (Christen et al., 2013). This is due to a
variety of factors including increased albedo from surfaces such as concrete and glass. Our data
station is located at Vancouver National Airport, which is not within the centre of Vancouver, and
therefore is likely encounter less temperature variation than other sites within Vancouver. This
means that it is likely to present a better picture of the overall trends in the climate for the area
than a mid-city station might, as it will not be affected by these fluctuations due to albedo and
heat trapping. However, this also means that the data might not present an accurate picture of

what is actually going on within the city of Vancouver, and that extreme temperatures might in
fact be recorded more frequently in urban areas, due to the above mentioned factors. Within
urban areas, extreme temperatures might be affected more in the short term by development and
architecture rather than climate trends, and so our conclusions
As Figure 2 shows, 27 days were over our rainfall threshold, and Figure 4 has a R 2 value
of 0.2197. This indicates a moderate correlation, suggesting a possible increase in extreme
rainfall events - over 50 mm in 24 hours - over the last 75 years. However, the R 2 value is still
small, so it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions. Some studies have predicted increasing
rainfall in the Pacific Northwest. Hambly et al. (2012), for example, predicted that there would
be a 12 - 19% increase in number of rainfall days in Vancouver by the mid-twenty-first century.
We found a slight increasing trend in rainfall events, and the discrepancy in the magnitude of
correlation is likely because we were solely looking at large quantities of rainfall occurring
within a short time-frame (over 50 mm in 24 hours), rather than overall increases in rainfall. It
does not appear likely that Vancouver will be receiving more rainfall at once due to global
warming, rather that it will be receiving more rainfall distributed throughout the year; Fleming
(2007), found a similar trend using modeling, predicting an increase in the length of precipitation
events but no change in the intensity.
Some studies, however, show that British Columbia will be receiving less rainfall by the
middle of the century (Sobie and Weaver, 2011). Again, the fact that we show little trend in our
data - and that what we do see is a positive one - is likely due to the fact that we are looking at
extreme rainfall in a short period of time rather than overall rainfall within a month or year.
2.3 Recommendations:
Although we cannot conclude that extreme temperature and rainfall events are becoming
more common in Vancouver, we do still recommend that continuous monitoring takes place. This
will help with future predictions and overall preparedness.
Furthermore, the data from British Columbias Rapid Mortality Surveillance System and
from Kosatsky et al. (2012) on the 2009 heat wave cannot be ignored. No matter how uncommon
extreme weather events are in Vancouver, the city needs to be prepared to handle them and
prevent increased mortality during these times. The City of Vancouvers 2012 Climate Change

Adaptation Strategy outlines strategies to ensure that Vancouver is ready for climate change and
potential extreme weather events. For extreme heat, the strategy suggests increasing canopy
cover and drinking fountains in known hot spots such as beaches, creating cooling centers with
large capacities, and broadening Vancouvers Emergency Response volunteer team during heat
waves, among others. In terms of extreme precipitation, the plan involves ensuring that drainage
systems can handle large volumes of water to prevent flooding, and that other infrastructure can
handle extreme rainfall and the heavy winds that often accompany them.
Vancouver also has an Extreme Weather Response plan which is outlined in the above
strategy. It opens shelters for at-risk populations during extreme weather events, such as the
In conclusion, we recommend that the above initiatives are continued. We believe that
they will greatly reduce the mortality rates during extreme weather events and help ensure
preparedness in Greater Vancouver.


CBC News. Dozens of fires burn B.C. forests. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2009. Web.
10 February 2015. <>
City of Vancouver. Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. City of Vancouver Greenest City 2020
Climate Adaptation. Web. 11 February 2015.
Christen, Andreas, Fred Meier, and Dieter Scherer. "High-Frequency Fluctuations of Surface
Temperatures in an Urban Environment." Theoretical and Applied Climatology 108.1-2
(2012): 301-24. ProQuest. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
Christidis, Nikolaus, Gareth S. Jones, and Peter A. Stott. Dramatically increasing chance of
extremely hot summers since the 2003 European heatwave. Nature Climate Change 5.1
(2015): 46-50. Web of Science. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
CTV News. Cleanup underway after heavy rainfall causes North Shore flooding. CTV News
vancouver, 2014. Web. 10 February 2015. <>.
Environment Canada. Public Alerting Criteria. Environment Canada, 2014. Web. 10 February
2015. <>.
Environment Canada. Canadian Climate Normals. Environment Canada, 2009. Web. 10
February 2015. <>.
Fleming, Sean. Climatic influences on Markovian transition matrices for Vancouver daily
rainfall occurrence. Atmosphere-Ocean 45.3 (2007): 163-171. Web of Science. Web. 10 Feb.
Hambly, Derrick, Jean Andrey, Brian Mills, and Chris Fletcher. 2013. Projected implications of
climate change for road safety in Greater Vancouver, Canada. Climatic Change 116.3 (2013):
613-629. Web of Science. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
Jakob, Matthias, Ian McKendry, and Rick Lee. "Long-Term Changes in Rainfall Intensities in
Vancouver, British Columbia." Canadian Water Resources 28.4 (2013): 587-604. Taylor and
Francis Online. Taylor and Francis Group. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.

Kosatsky, Tom, Sarah B. Henderson, and Sue L. Pollock. Shifts in Mortality During a Hot
Weather Event in Vancouver, British Columbia: Rapid Assessment With Case-Only Analysis.
American Journal of Public Health 102.12 (2012): 23672371. PMC. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.
Sobie, Stephen, and Andrew Weaver. Downscaling of precipitation over Vancouver Island using
a synoptic typing approach. Atmosphere-Ocean 50.2 (2012): 176-196. Web of Science. Web.
10 Feb. 2015.
Yang, Liang, Jrgen Scheffran, Huapeng Qin, and Qinglong You. Climate-related flood risks
and urban responses in the Pearl River Delta, China. Regional Environmental Change 15.2
(2015): 379-391. Web of Science. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.


Appendix A
Main Script:
fid=fopen('maxtempextra.csv'); %open 1937-2012
temp=gettemp(fid); % goes into function, creates structure for CSV file
subplot (3,1,1)
plot(temp.time,,'.')%plot daily max temperatures against time
axis([1937 2012 0 40]) %set axis limits
datetick('x',10); %scale date axis
title('Extra Max Temperatures (1937-2012)')
xlabel('Time (years)');
ylabel('Temperature (C)')
fid=fopen('1937-1957.csv'); %open 1937-2012
temp=gettemp2(fid); % goes into function, creates structure for CSV file
subplot (3,1,2)
plot(temp.time,,'.')%plot total rainfall against time
axis([1937 2012 0 40]) %set axis limits
datetick('x',10); %scale date axis
function [temp] = gettemp(fid)
%extracts data from excel file and creates two arrays
%input: fid
%output: temp structure
for ii=1
l=fgetl(fid); %ignore first row

% Do a vectorized fixed-format read

A=fscanf(fid,'%d,%f,%f,%f,%f',[5 Inf])';
% Create a structure
for iii=2:length(A) %from row 2 to length of data set
temp.time=datenum(A(:,1),A(:,2),A(:,3),23,59,0);,4);; %fills blanks with NaN

Appendix B
a. Temperature Frequency

b. Rainfall Frequency