From 1952 to 1981 the Canadian government operated two ships off the West Coast, primarily for meteorological observations but also for collecting a wide range of oceanographic data. These vessels sailed from Victoria to Ocean Station ‘P’ (PAPA) at 50°N 145°W (Fig 1) In June 1981 they were decommissioned and sold because of budgetary constraints For several years the only direct source of marine meteorological data was from commercial vessels, from drifting buoys, and from US buoys moored in the Gulf of Alaska Fishermen constantly lobbied for reinstatement of the weatherships and for other programs to improve the marine forecasts.

During summer a high pressure system persists off the British Columbia coast (Fig 1) The Hawaii High, as it is called, results in generally stable and calm conditions In 1987 for example, Victoria, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, had a record 153 days without significant rainfall from May to October When the Hawaii High moves south in October, low pressure systems flow in off the north Pacific bringing frequent storms to the entire coastline Figure 2 shows the difference in seasonal rainfall and the tracks of winter storms In addition, British Columbia's rugged coastline is indented by long narrow fjords, resulting in very localized weather conditions, especially during the winter when cold air flows down the valleys from the interior.

Major systems can be tracked with little difficulty by the Atmospheric Environment Service On occasion, however, rapidly deepening low pressure systems move in off the Pacific These storms, often referred to as ‘bombs’ can be highly destructive if adequate advance warning is not provided On the night of October 11, 1984, a bomb struck the west coast of Vancouver Island sinking seven vessels and drowning five seamen. An inquiry was immediately launched to investigate the adequacy of marine weather forecasting on the West Coast The subsequent report by Dr Paul LeBlond of the University of British Columbia made Several key recommendations

  • The general level of weather services provided to mariners should be enhanced towards that available to aviators

  • Specialist marine forecasting positions should be created in coastal forecast offices

  • Sea state forecasting be included in the services provided to manners

  • Development of a number of marine meteorological data acquisition systems should be pursued (e.g. anemometers for drifting buoys)

  • Research on the physics of the rapid deepening process of storms should be carried out

In a cooperative effort between the Atmospheric Environment Service, the Canadian Coast Guard, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, steps are being taken on several fronts to improve marine sea state and weather forecasts and search and rescue (SARI response capabilities One of these is the establishment of a network of permanently moored buoys in the coastal zone and in the deep offshore.


The United States maintains, and is constantly upgrading and expanding.

Fig. 1 Summer high, ocean station ‘P’(Available in full paper)

Fig. 2 Winter storms and seasonal rainfall on the British Columbia coast (September-March) (Available in full paper)

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