Tofino, Ucluelet, and the Pacific Rim Feature

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Pacific Rim Storm-Watching

No one's really sure when the concept of "bad weather" morphed into "good weather," but on the tourism-friendly Pacific Rim, nasty storms are usually considered quite fine indeed.

November through March is formally storm-watching season, and thousands of people travel from around the world to witness the spectacularly violent weather. Veteran storm-watchers are known to keep an eye on the weather channels and pack their bags quickly for Tofino or Ucluelet when storm predictions are particularly, well, grim.

Throughout the winter, but particularly during the "peak season" of December through February, as many as 15 "good storms" arrive per month. Winds from the ocean exceed 50 kph (30 mph) and teeming rain—even hail, sleet, or snow—arrives horizontally. Massive waves thunder onto the beaches and crash over the rocky headlands and islets, sending spray soaring. Towering evergreen trees crackle and lean; logs are tossed helter-skelter, high onto kelp-strewn beaches. Unusual storm clouds, mists, and rainbows add to the beauty. And as if the sights weren't enough, expect to hear the eerie sounds of a screaming wind, pounding surf—even the rattling of double-paned windows—unless you happen to be behind reinforced triple-glazed windows, in which case the whole show unfolds in near silence. And that's even more surreal.

The hotels and B&Bs love the storm season because it fills rooms in what could otherwise be a bleak time of year. And it must be admitted that most storm-watching takes place in considerable comfort—particularly at the luxury hotels along Cox Bay, Chesterman Beach, and MacKenzie Beach. These and other waterfront properties in the Tofino-Ucluelet region have shrewdly developed "storm-watching packages," in which treats abound (and rates tumble). Champagne on arrival, fashionable wet-weather gear, complimentary nature walks, and gourmet dinners are among the offerings. Perhaps most important, expect a cozy room, often with a fireplace and a soaker tub with an ocean outlook, in which you can relax in security, while the outer world rages on.

Serious thrill seekers take to the beaches and lookouts to experience storms firsthand. That said, conditions can be decidedly unfriendly, and visitors should remember that this is a coastline famed for its shipwrecks. Storm-watchers planning on walking the Wild Pacific Trail, for example, should go with a companion, and preferably with an experienced naturalist or guide. Other notable storm-watching venues include Wickaninnish Beach, with the largest swells and greatest concentration of logs and driftwood; Second Bay, where powerful swells funnel through the rocks and islets; Long Beach, famed for its rolling swells, wave-washed islands, and panoramic views; Cox Bay, said to receive the largest and most powerful waves; and Chesterman Beach, beloved for its varied conditions and outlooks.

Updated: 06-2013

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