by Deborah Greaves; May 2011
My husband and I have lived in excellent places. Vancouver’s my home town and I’m still fond of it. When we married, we moved to Vancouver Island, where our children were born and raised. Before we moved to Calgary, my husband, daughters and I lived in BC’s Okanagan Valley.
The Okanagan Valley got us acquainted with weather extremes. The day we moved in to our new home there it hailed, darkened, brightened, got hot, got cold and got windy- all within three hours. This was our weather ‘sampler’, the indication of what was to come. The first winter, the snow started during the third week of November and stuck around until March. It was the heaviest snow siege there in twenty-two years.
The following summer, our community suffered a windstorm that toppled century-old pines and cottonwood trees, leaving Kelowna’s downtown jewel, City Park, looking like a war zone. Later, in 2003, we lived through one of the Okanagan Valley’s most horrendous heat waves, which broke records for high temperatures all through the summer. Grass crunched underfoot like cookie crumbs, and a single bolt of lightning set an entire mountainside on fire.
Oft remembered by vacationers from both west and east as a benign and lovely playground, the Okanagan Valley can be surprisingly rough. One storm blew our cat right through a screen door, so loud were the thunderclaps. Another thunderclap once blew my husband and I right out of sleep and bed. We found ourselves standing at attention in the dark, wondering if World War Three had started.
So, despite its cheery reputation as a sunny place to enjoy a continuous supply of wine and warmth, the Okanagan Valley provided my hubby and I with a bit of advance training for the notorious rigours of Calgary. With the warnings and admonishments of various friends and associates ringing in our ears – ‘ what are you thinking ? Calgary has horrible weather !’ - in July last year we loaded our hairy sled dog into the car and chased the moving van through the Rockies.
We’d been in our new Calgary home for about five days when the hail storm hit. Out on the street because the garage was full of boxes, my husband’s sporty little car shortly looked as though it had been at an amateur shooting range.
And of course, the snow started during the third week of November.
My husband and I were cheery all through both the threats and real events. (‘It can snow ANY month of the year!’ Calgary expatriates had hissed.) As an avid snowshoer, I already owned a parka when we got here, as well as a host of fleece pants and woolly socks. I got nice new hiking boots so my feet were always warm. The dog was already naturally equipped for the Arctic, so all through The Mean Season we walked in Confederation Park every evening no matter what. Until the temperature dropped to minus thirty.
Here in Calgary, when the temperature was really down I couldn’t wear my spectacles outside, because my breath froze on them like quick cement. I, a woman who can’t recognise my own daughters at ten paces without my specs, was helpless. Contact lenses, no longer particularly comfortable or easy to insert, were needed every time I took the dog for a walk. Nevertheless, we three Newbies got through our first Calgary winter with no frostbite, just one tailbone splat, and our humour generally intact.
Now that Spring is timidly approaching, I have time to be maniacally delighted by the second of two weather warnings I’d never before heard until we moved to Calgary:
‘ It will be partly cloudy, with a possibility of Thunder Snow.’ Ah. Thunder Snow. Naturally.
Earlier in the winter, the first strange new weather warning that had intrigued me was ‘Partly sunny today, with Snow Crystals.’ The day I first heard that weather forecast on the radio, I quickly stepped out the back door into the pale mid-winter light, and there they were.
The air was glittering. Millions of minute diamonds, floating and swirling in the sunlit winter breeze – these were the promised and enchanting Snow Crystals, the first I’ve known.
Even if it comes in the month of May, I can hardly wait to meet the Thunder Snow.