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The Top Ten Weather Stories of 1996

In 1996, Canadians suffered through some of the most extreme and destructive weather to ever hit the country. For most of the year, the weather either froze, buried, soaked, buffeted or frightened us. No part of the nation seemed to escape the wrath of the weather gods in 1996.

It was truly the stuff of a Hollywood catastrophe film -weather bombs on Vancouver Island, hailers on the Prairies, deluges of biblical proportion in Quebec. Three drive-in theatres were heavily damaged by tornadoes, and yes, they were about to show "Twister."

The outbursts of extreme and freakish weather made the year, by far and away, the most expensive for Canada's property and casualty insurers. Most of the financial fallout stemmed from flooding in Quebec's Saguenay region -Canada's first billion dollar catastrophe --but multi-million dollar hailstorms in Winnipeg and Calgary; flash flooding in Ottawa and Montreal; and severe thunderstorms in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta also took their toll.

Total property damage will likely exceed $1.5 billion when final figures are tallied. Indirect costs and losses from revenue shortfall, cancelled events, missed opportunities and slowed business will probably be a $3 billion hit to the Canadian economy.

Remarkably though, the number of personal injuries and fatalities linked to weather incidents could have been much higher. Unofficial numbers point to fewer than 25 weather-related deaths (excluding deaths from road accidents and hypothermia) -10 from the storms in the Saguenay and six from lightning in separate incidents. Timely and accurate weather warnings and advisories issued by Environment Canada have helped reduce the number of casualties and damage from natural hazards.

Here are the top ten weather stories of 1996, ranked according to total estimated losses:

Top Ten Weather Stories of 1996

  1. The Saquenay Flood
  2. High Energy Costs
  3. Costly Prairie Hailstorms
  4. Wet and Cold Weather Reduces Crop Yields
  5. Deep Winter Snows
  6. Slow Spring Affects Retail Sales
  7. Flash Flooding in Ottawa and Montreal
  8. Severe Storms and Tornadoes
  9. Spring Flooding
  10. Hurricanes and Weather "Bombs"

Putting it all in Perspective

So are the number of weather-related disasters in Canada and around the world increasing? According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, ever since the Edmonton tornado of 1987, the number of multi-million dollar losses from weather disasters has been on the rise in Canada. Around the world, insurers have witnessed, over the last 20 years, a four-fold increase in the number of weather catastrophes. More worrisome, costs from natural disasters have risen ten-fold during the same period. Before 1987 there was not a single natural disaster with damages exceeding $1 billion anywhere in the world, but since then there have been at least 18 such disasters.

While the outbursts of extreme and freakish weather were interesting for many climatologists in Canada, they weren't generally surprised by the unusual weather patterns. By its very nature, weather is quite chaotic and turbulent, and extremes, especially in Canada, are a normal feature of the climate. Climatologists are, however, becoming increasingly concerned that the volatile weather in 1996 might be a dry run of the extreme conditions we might expect from a warming climate.