Fall and Winter in both Tofino and Ucluelet bring dramatic skies, wild winds, stormy seas, and, yes, often lots of rain! The exposed coast brings in waves up to 20 feet in height, but with mild temperatures, the area gives us the perfect storm watching location on Vancouver Island.
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The Storm Watching Season
November starts the official storm watching season in both Ucluelet and Tofino, and it lasts until the end of February. That said, you may get lucky witnessing a storm near the end of October and even as late as early March, but your best chance is November thru to February. Within that timeframe, the area sees approximately 15 – 20 mega-storms.
Why it Happens
There are no landmasses between Vancouver Island’s west coast and Japan, allowing strong winds to build offshore. The storms generally originate near Alaska, coming from both the Bearing Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. As the northern arctic air travels southeast and collides with subtropical air off Vancouver Island, it creates powerful offshore storms that send high winds and dramatic waves towards the rugged west coast.
Safe Storm Watching
Storm watching can be exhilarating to watch, but it can also be dangerous. Ucluelet’s beautiful rocky shoreline makes large incoming waves even more impressive as they crash upon the rocks. However, these rocks become incredibly slippery, and the water’s power can easily sweep unexpecting viewers off their feet.
Large swells can also increase rip currents as well as cause beaches to flood unexpectedly. Powerful waves crashing along the beach can also bring with it large and heavy pieces of driftwood.
For these reasons, ensure you are extra cautious when out on the shoreline during storm season.
What to Wear
The weather conditions can change rapidly on the west coast. So expect a little bit of everything and plan accordingly. It’s always best to dress in layers. Definitely have rain boots, a rain jacket with a hood, and even rain pants. Umbrellas will be of no use to you if the wind is strong.
If you stay at one of the higher-end resorts (see a few examples below), they often provide guests with storm-watching attire.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”Ranulph Fiennes
Where to Go
There are many great places to storm watch while on the west coast of Vancouver Island; however, here are a few of my favourite locations.
Chesterman Beach is where storm watching on Vancouver Island all began. Back in the day, the McDiarmid family had a cabin on this very beach. They loved to watch the waves break on the rocky outcropping and took note of where the most spectacular views of crashing waves are in all seasons. In 1996, they designed and built the Wickaninnish Inn so others can enjoy the phenomenon, making it one of the best storm watching destinations on the west coast.
Cox Bay is a crescent-shaped sandy beach located just south of Chesterman. This area sees some of the biggest swells at any time of year, especially during storm season. For this reason, surfing is a popular sport here. Even during wild winter storms, one can see a few surfers trying to tackle the giant waves. An activity I’d only recommend to those highly trained!
Anytime I’ve been to Wickaninnish Beach, it’s been windy, thus lending to some incredible swells. It’s officially the southern part of Long Beach, and together they provide an incredibly expansive area to walk, beach comb and enjoy those winter storms. After a storm, this beach is a popular location to search for driftwood. The Kwisitis Visitor Centre is also situated here and offers a great deck overlooking the bay, perfect for storm watching.
Amphitrite Point Lighthouse
As mentioned above, Ucluelet’s rocky shoreline provides amazing storm-watching locations. A favourite of mine is the Amphitrite Point lighthouse, located at the south end of Peninsula road. Sit on one of the large rocks and watch the waves crash against the shoreline. Be extra vigilant if visiting this area during a storm.
Where to Stay
Many of the area’s resorts now offer storm-watching packages. And depending on the room you choose, you may be able to watch the wild weather and waves right from the comfort of your room!
As it’s still considered an off-season activity, between November and February, you’ll find the resorts less busy, more accessible to book and less expensive than the peak season of summer.
Here are a few of my favourite locations for storm watching on Vancouver Island.
Pacific Sands Beach Resort
Located on Cox Bay, at Pacific Sands Beach Resort, you are right in the action when a storm hits! Many of the rooms here give you front-row seats to the pacific ocean’s theatrics. Splurge on a beach house and get the ultimate storm-watching experience! No matter which room you choose, raincoats are available on request to help keep you dry and cozy on your Cox Bay beach walks.
Long Beach Lodge
Located on the edge of Cox Bay, the Great Room at Long Beach Lodge was designed to give guests optimal beach and ocean views. And with the warmth of the wood-burning fireplace, a cozy spot you may never want to leave! Splurge on a two-bedroom cottage and watch the crashing waves from the comfort of your hot tub.
Cox Bay Beach Resort
For those on a tighter budget, Cox Bay Beach Resort offers a variety of loft beach house-style accommodations. You won’t have oceanfront views, but Cox Bay is a short walk away. There is an elevated look-out pavilion where guests can sit and enjoy beautiful beach views.
Black Rock Oceanfront Resort
For the spectacular rocky shoreline of Ucluelet, I highly recommend Black Rock Oceanfront Resort. Snuggle up by your in-room fireplace and watch the storm from the safety of your cozy room. Or better yet, some rooms come equipped with a large soaker tub with a front-row view of the ocean. If yours doesn’t, then head out to their communal hot tub while the storm rages on, or sit and enjoy the view from their onsite restaurant.
Black Rock Ridge
For those looking for a luxurious vacation rental, check out Black Rock Ridge. This ocean-facing home, perched high on a ridge, gives you stunning views of the giant swells and crashing waves. Situated near the Wild Pacific Trail and Big Beach, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy during your stay.
For other fantastic vacation rentals in Ucluelet, check out: Best Ucluelet Vacation Rentals.
Have you been to the west coast to storm watch? Let us know about your experience in the comment section below.
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