Though long considered one of B.C.’s most sublime summer environments, Tofino has managed to transform the hostile winter of Vancouver Island’s west coast into both a surfing and storm-watching destination between November and March. 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.
When to go
November through March is formally storm-watching season around here, 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," major blasts of Sturm und Drang, arrive per month. Winds from the ocean exceed 50 kph (30 mph) and teeming rain—even 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.
Where to Stay
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 importantly, expect a cozy room, often with a fireplace and a soaker tub with an ocean outlook, in which you relax in security, while the outer world rages on.
Storms are known to generate communal excitement—and wonder. One Cox Bay lodge reports that staff, too, rush to the windows when things get wild. And patrons particularly enjoy watching surfers who continue to ride the waves when it snows; those crazy locals.
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 Coast Trail, for example, should do so with an experienced naturalist or guide. Other notable storm-watching spots 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.
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Photo Credit: ImagineGolf / iStockphoto; Pacific Rim National Park Surfer Courtesy Tourism Vancouver Island – ChrisCheadle.com