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Canada's Top Ten Weather Stories for 2010

Table of Contents

Runner-up Stories in 2010 (Chronological order)

Avalanches

Avalanches claimed twelve lives across Canada in 2010 – all but one in British Columbia.  The toll compares with an average of 14 annually but was down significantly from the 26 deaths in 2009.  Casualties were relatively few given the prevalence of El Niño.  Some of the deadliest winters in recent history - 1997-98 when 21 people were killed, and 2002-03 when 29 died - were El Niño years. Most avalanche deaths occurred in March when heavy snows overloaded weak bottom snow layers.  Early in the winter, dry, warm conditions led to a “hair-trigger” unstable snowpack. Lengthydry spells didn't allow the snow to bond and strengthen. Blue skies brought more snow enthusiasts out – more to trigger avalanches, especially in backcountry.   The season’s worst fatal accident occurred on March 13 near Revelstoke, B.C. when an avalanche roared down Boulder Mountain during a snowmobile competition.  Two people were killed and 30 were injured in an avalanche powerful enough to destroy a house. The snow slide was 150 m wide, 10 m deep and roared down the hill in seconds, tossing people and machines like toys for close to a kilometre.

Ice-Free Atlantic Canada

Along Canada’s East Coast, sea ice in 2010 was almost non-existent. With winter temperatures running 6 to 10°C above normal in Atlantic Canada and with frequent episodes of strong winds, it wasn’t surprising to see such minimal and thin sea ice in the Labrador Sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence and Northumberland Strait. In fact, average ice conditions in late February were the lowest ever observed in 40 years of record-keeping. Remarkably, the ice coverage in the Gulf was 47.5 per cent less than that of the previous low ice record which was set in the winter of 1968-69. The sparse, thin ice wreaked havoc with the seal population, as thousands were forced onto the shore-fast ice to give birth only to lose most of their young when the thin ice largely broke up before the pups could swim on their own. Canada Fisheries reported that on the first day of spring, there were only about 600 seals in the southern Gulf, when there should have been 30,000.

Four Prairie Whitewashers in Four Weeks

At a time when most Canadians were saying adieu to winter snows, residents of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan faced four snowstorms in four weeks. Following the snow assault, Cardston, Alberta declared a disaster. Local ranchers lost up to 15 per cent of their calves in the middle of calving season – cattle were trampled in fields or drowned in dugouts trying to flee blizzards. In one storm, up to 40 horses died in a stampede. Ironically, ranchers had been praying for precipitation following a record dry winter. On April 8, a swift and powerful winter blast, packing strong northwesterly wind gusts of 107 km/h, wrecked havoc across the western Prairies. Just east of Cold Lake, 36 cm of snow fell. In Regina, fierce winds blew a sign off a tall bank tower as the building swayed back and forth. The storm caused hundreds of vehicle crashes, delayed flights and downed power lines that left more than 50,000 customers without power. Less than a week later, another wild winter wallop caused power outages across much of southern Alberta impacting tens of thousands of people. Motorists abandoned their vehicles buried in half-metre drifts. In Lethbridge about three-quarters of the homes lost power, the hospital switched to emergency power and schools closed. A third winter blast at the end of April blanketed much of the Alberta foothills. Winds gusted up to 100 km/h and a record 40 to 70 cm of snow fell, proving to be a headache for travellers from Red Deer to the Alberta-Montana border. In Calgary, between 15 and 25 cm of heavy, slushy snow fell. At one point, there were so many accidents on the main highway to Edmonton that it was closed so that emergency personnel could remove abandoned vehicles. In Standoff, shelters were set up to help Aboriginal residents deal with flooded basements and power outages. Yet another storm during the first week of May hit southern districts of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The storm packed wind gusts up to 113 km/h. Edmonton appeared to feel winter’s last blast the most after getting hit with 17 cm of snow. Slushy roads were the bane of morning commuters who, optimistic about the end of winter, had already removed their winter tires. A storm on May 28 is also of note given that it left Calgary with a three-day snowfall totalling 17 cm while residents of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, basked in afternoon temperatures exceeding 30°C.

Lake Waters – How Low (and Warm) Can They Go?

After three seasons (fall 2009 to spring 2010) that were virtually free of precipitation, and with unseasonably mild temperatures, water levels in many Ontario and Quebec rivers and lakes were their lowest in decades. For the Eastern Boreal forest, which covers most of Ontario and Quebec, it was the warmest and driest nine months on record (September 2009 to May 2010). Even minimal snow on the ground in February and March evaporated before getting into the river system.  March was especially unusual with several weather stations setting records for their warmest and lowest snowfall totals on record.

Warnings of low water levels were posted for several Ontario waterways, including the French, Ottawa and Nipissing. Some marinas reported their lowest levels in 50 years. With water down by more than a metre, docks were useless, shoals stuck out of the water and beaches were mostly mud, stumps and rocks. Outdoor enthusiasts cancelled reservations in droves. Ontario Power Generation reported the driest spring in 100 years causing unusually low hydro-energy production. With levels so low, water quality was also adversely affected. Concern about declining water levels in the lakes and rivers in western Quebec prompted municipalities to take special measures because intake pipes were no longer submerged, jeopardizing domestic water supply. With no freshet, there was no spring run-off to engorge streams and rivers and fill up lakes and reservoirs. Boaters on Quebec’s Lake of Two Mountains and Lac St.-Louis worried about hitting rocks. Yachters from Hudson and Pointe Claire clubs lamented the lowest levels in 30 years. In Lac Saint-Jean, large boats couldn’t leave the dock. Rivière des Mille Îles was its lowest level ever, prompting the Mayor of Rosemère to say that you could walk on it. The decrease in water levels financially impacted aluminium company Rio Tinto Alcan because it could not generate the necessary hydro power. And some lake freighters on the St. Lawrence Seaway had to ride high with lighter loads.

It wasn’t a surprise that Great Lakes water levels were alarmingly low going into summer. In mid-spring, water levels on Lake Ontario were their lowest in at least a decade, down by 47 cm compared with April 2009. Fortunately, a wet summer eased the seasonal decline in the last half of 2010. The combination of an unseasonably mild winter and spring, which drastically reduced the amount of lake ice, followed by a warm summer led to record-breaking water temperatures in the Great Lakes. The largest of the lakes, Lake Superior, was a stunning 8°C above normal in mid-August. At one site, its surface water temperature reached 21°C – this on a lake that usually doesn't reach 16°C. Lake Ontario’s surface temperatures peaked at 24°C, while Lake Erie’s reached 27°C – almost bath water.

June Rains Swamp Southwestern Prairies

During the third week of June, a series of slow-moving storms tracked across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan dumping in excess of 100 mm of rain. Prior to the soaking, three weeks of wet weather meant that the latest rains had no where to go but overland. River levels rose to the highest seen in 50 years. Flooding closed the Trans-Canada Highway for several kilometres on both sides of the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary. And states of emergency were in force in several Alberta communities. Hundreds of residents living in low-lying neighbourhoods of Medicine Hat fled their homes as the tributaries of the South Saskatchewan River rose dramatically. In the city, the losses were in excess of $50 million – by far the largest loss that the city has ever suffered. Of that total, $47 million covered damage to municipal infrastructure such as bridges, roads and utilities. The remainder applied to roughly 340 homes and businesses hit by flooding, including 11 condemned properties. In neighbouring Cypress County, which includes the towns of Irvine and Walsh, losses exceeded $15 million, including several million to repair 17 bridges. Some townspeople had to be rescued from their flooded homes by boat or helicopter, and countless residents were left to clean up mucky basements and debris-strewn yards. Outside of town, ranchers swam their cattle to higher ground. The cost of fixing a massive sink hole in the Trans-Canada Highway was also in the many millions of dollars. 

Manitoba Floods … Summer not Spring

Around mid-March anxious citizens of North Dakota battled to hold back rising waters on the Red River.  To the north, residents in Manitoba’s Red River valley breathed more easily. A near-perfect melt eased the threat of the usual spring flood and provided a sharp contrast to 2009 when the province faced its third-worst flood conditions in the past century. In April, ditches around Morris were nowhere near capacity. Weeks of warm and dry weather gradually melted snow about two weeks earlier than usual reducing the likelihood of flooding. Soil moisture was significantly lower than a year ago, meaning that the ground could still absorb much of the meltwater. The Manitoba portion of the Red River was almost a metre lower than last year's near-record level.  And north of Winnipeg, river ice was relatively weak and much thinner, reducing the risk of jamming. The timing of runoff was also favourable because most Manitoba tributaries crested long before the Red’s freshet from the American headwaters reached the province.

Surprisingly, the risk of flooding in 2010 came not from the usual spring snow melt and ice jamming but following weeks of heavy spring-summer rains. More rain fell during the first week of May than amounts typical of April and May combined. In Winnipeg, 160 mm of rain fell in May, making it the third wettest ever in the city with records dating back to 1872. Rains on sodden ground caused sewer back-ups and flooded city streets and basements. In the last week of May, 75 to 130 mm of rain fell, prompting a rise in some rivers of 2 m in two days. During the weekend storm, Winnipeg experienced 13 hours of thunderstorms. The storm soaked the province from The Pas to Emerson, where a whopping 100+ mm of rain occurred in a few hours. Drainage systems became overwhelmed. In yard after yard, debris was piled high with ruined household effects. Emerson’s mayor declared a state of emergency after the deluge left some roads a metre or more under water.

The next month brought more of the same. On June 10, overland flooding washed out roads north of Winnipeg. At Peguis First Nation, officials declared a state of emergency and evacuated the entire community. Houses flood-damaged a year ago were once again under water. A week later another massive weather system stormed through southern Manitoba, dumping up to 150 mm of rain on saturated farmland and rural communities. The entire Assiniboine Valley flooded all the way to Brandon, washing away valuable seed. On July 3, heavy rains between 150 and 250 mm prompted the province to issue a flood watch for the Fisher River and Peguis areas. The deluge swamped an already flood-weary community. It was the fifth flood in the past 15 months in Manitoba’s largest First Nation community.

At the end of August, a slow-moving frontal system and an unstable air mass combined to produce widespread showers and thunderstorms over southern Manitoba. About 30 to 50 mm of rain fell in the all-day storm. Across the Red River valley, the Inter-Lakes region and southeastern Manitoba, embedded thunderstorms generated even heavier amounts of rain – 70 mm fell from Carman to Pinawa, and there were unconfirmed reports of 125 mm of rain at St. Jean Baptiste and 140 mm at a location south of Morris. 

In the fall, the ground in southern Manitoba was saturated from months of excessive rains. Spring-summer-fall rainfall amounts were 250 per cent higher than average in places. By the end of November, the Red River in downtown Winnipeg was almost 1.5 m above ice level. Unprecedented water levels and saturated ground greatly increase the prospects for flooding in spring 2011. A fast snow melt will leave no place for the water to go, especially with thousands of kilometres of ditches or culverts full to the brim at the start of this year’s winter. Adding to the likelihood of flooding next spring? Winnipeg received in excess of 55 cm of snow in November – the greatest snowfall in 14 years.

Eastern Canada’s Summer of Summers…

It wasn’t the warmest summer on record but Easterners weren’t complaining. It was labeled the “Goldilocks” of summers – not too hot and not too cold, and wet enough to keep the leaves green, crops growing, bonfires burning and water taps turned off. For most of June to August, a large area of high pressure set up south of the Great Lakes. Like a giant heat pump, it drew up warm air from the Deep South and spread it across Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.  What added to summer’s niceness was its consistency, with all six months from April to September warmer than normal. Surprisingly, with all the heat and sunshine, there were relatively few smog days. Ontario’s Ministry of Environment issued only three smog advisories covering 12 days. In comparison, summer 2005 was equally warm but featured 15 smog advisories covering 53 days.

More summer weather highlights: 

  • At Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, there were 25 hot days (above 30°C) compared to a normal 14 and humidex counts were high. Between July 1 and August 10, there were 23 days with humidex at or above 35 compared to 3 days in 2009. Toronto Public Health issued its first heat alert on May 24 – the earliest date since the heat health alert system started in 2001 – and the last one on September 2, which was the latest ever. In between, 16 heat and extreme alerts were issued. 
  • In Hamilton, there were 35 days with temperatures above 28°C.
  • In Kitchener-Waterloo, there were as many warm days at or above 30°C in May as there was in all of 2009. 
  • In Ottawa, the temperature peaked at 35.8°C on May 26, breaking the record on that day by about 5°C. Even more spectacular, it was the warmest day ever before the first day of summer.
  • Windsor, Ont.experienced its second hottest summer on record. Half the days in August were at or above 30°C.
  • Montreal experienced its warmest July in 50 years and tied for its warmest April to July ever. 
  • Fredericton had 16 hot days above 30°C compared to a normal of 10.
  • On August 14, a buoy near the centre of Lake Superior recorded a surface water temperature of 20.4°C – the warmest in 16 years of observations. In a deep lake better known for its hypothermia-inducing temperatures, Superior was the new swimming hole. 

Summer in the eastern half of Canada featured two legitimate heat waves (three consecutive days with maximum temperatures above 32°C). From July 3 to 9, millions struggled to cope with scorching heat and insufferable humidity. The first heat wave is often not the most intense one, but often takes the greatest toll as people learn to adapt. And this was the first one in three years. Toronto responded by opening special cooling centres, while the city’s paramedics received 51 per cent more complaints about breathing problems and fainting calls jumped 39 per cent. In Ottawa, a stifling 35°C on July 7 was intense enough to prompt the cancellation of the RCMP’s Musical Ride. Paramedics there saw an 18 per cent increase in call volume. Montreal tied or set daily records for four consecutive days from July 5 to July 8. Following the heat wave, health officials in Montreal claimed that heat-related mortality rates doubled.

A second heat wave occurred in late August and early September. In Toronto, the temperature hit 34.5°C on August 30 making it the hottest day of the summer. In Ottawa, the city had not experienced such a significant string of August temperatures above 30°C since 1993. According to climatologists in Quebec, an end-of-August-to-early September heat wave is considered climatologically “unusual” in that province since only three other late heat waves of such length have occurred in the past 100 years. Atlantic Canada also felt the record-breaking heat at the end of summer with the temperature exceeding 34.1°C at Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax on September 1.

…and Perfect Weather Down on the Farm

It was a stupendous summer for growers, especially compared to the last couple of years. With the ground virtually snow-free since the end of February, farmers had a three-week head start on planting. Fields literally went from the slush to mud to dry in 10 days. With the earliest emergence of crops ever in the Ontario-Quebec food belt, ideal growing weather continued with timely rains, abundant sunshine, exceptional heat, high humidity, and fewer and relatively weaker storms. Favourable weather also meant little sign of fungus disease or rot. Dry spells of 7 to 10 days were frequently followed by rainstorms just before growers thought about irrigating. Soil moisture levels were consistently good and energy growth totals were 15 to 20 per cent above normal. Some farmers even considered rare double cropping – planting soybeans, for example, after winter wheat had been harvested. Fruit quality was outstanding and yields excellent, with a vintage year for grapes. It was hard to imagine better times in farmyards and backyards –perfect harvest, perfect yields, perfect prices and, yes, perfect weather.

Leamington and Midland Tornadoes

The Ontario tornado season was normal in 2010, unlike 2009 when 29 tornadoes and four deaths made it the most active and deadliest year in decades.  In all, 10 tornadoes (normal is 11) occurred in 2010 with some damage and no deaths. What was unusual was that over half the tornadoes in the province occurred in the Windsor-Essex County region of southwestern Ontario. On June 6, a powerful thunderstorm tracked through Essex County after midnight. Hours before, heavy rain fell in North Windsor flooding 1,400 basements. The outbreak featured four tornadoes and several localized and equally damaging downbursts. The first tornado occurred southwest of Harrow. Winds at the ground led to minor damage, yet the wind velocity at 40 m from the ground peaked at 191 km/h. A second tornado with F1 intensity and a third with F2 intensity (winds ranging between 180 to 240 km/h) tracked south and southeast of Harrow, respectively. Together the twisting winds toppled power poles and damaged several buildings. At one location, a two-storey brick home was shifted off its foundation. Elsewhere, a barn was demolished and heavy debris was tossed several hundred metres. A fourth tornado (F1 on the Fujita scale) touched down in south Leamington producing a 7 km long damage path. City officials declared a state of emergency, especially when several roads became impassable. Damage from the multiple wind, rain and hail event was over $100 million in insured losses in Windsor and across Essex County. About 15,000 people went without electricity after dozens of hydro poles were sheared in half, leaving live wires dangling dangerously low. In the maelstrom, roofs flew off, chimneys fell through roofs, two-century-old trees uprooted and trucks dropped on nearby greenhouses. Chunks of barn and shards of glass rained on fields of vegetables. Miraculously, no one was killed or seriously hurt. In the wild night, straight-line downburst winds matched the velocities of F1 tornadoes. 

On June 23, a day that an earthquake measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale shook southern Ontario, strong but unrelated tornadoes and microbursts struck the province. Environment Canada confirmed that a F2 tornado ripped through the south end of Midland around 6:15 p.m. At its widest point, the tornado was about 300 m and it tracked for about 25 km.  A second tornado started up 30 minutes later just east of Washago north of Orillia. It was rated as a F1 tornado (peak winds between 120 and 170 km/h). The most significant damage was to farm buildings and a garage. At Midland, tornadic winds destroyed 70 vacation trailers. Remarkably, it left only nine residents with minor injuries, possibly because it was mid-week and not a summer weekend.  More than 8,000 people were without power in the aftermath. The damage caused by the twisting and downburst winds cost $10 to $15 million. Finally, on July 23, afifth Essex County tornado (F0) struck around 10:30 pm, inflicting widespread property and tree damage in several backyards near Amherstburg. At a campground, winds flipped a camper trailer and levelled a large tent and several small sheds. 

Outside B.C…A Quiet Wildfire Season

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre reported a fairly average forest fire season in Canada with 7,253 wildfire starts. In contrast, the total area in hectares consumed was 3.2 million compared to the decade-long average of 1.6 million hectares – just shy of the ten-year high. And while B.C. experienced a slow wildfire start things heated up early on the other side of the country. Across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the same warm-dry weather that minimized the spring flood risk, along with high winds, led to an early outbreak of grass and brush fires that spread quickly due to dried out grass and forest litter. With the forest floor exposed well before there were leaves on the trees, there was nothing to block the sun from heating up and drying out woodlands. The first fire occurred on March 7 and fires continued daily until March 21. Halifax Regional fire officials placed their earliest ever ban on open burning (March 16). With an extremely wet June, the rest of the fire season was relatively slow. In New Brunswick, it was one of the sunniest, warmest and driest fire seasons in many years, yet 177 fires burned only 150 hectares. Timely rains, vigilant firefighting and luck might explain one of the quietest fire seasons ever. 

In northern and central Quebec, increased warmth and lightning activity at the end of May increased the forest fire risk. An early snowmelt that left the ground exposed to the drying sun added to that risk. Recognizing the threat, the province quickly imposed a ban on all open fires. Despite precautions, the total area burned in the province in 2010 was almost three times that of the 10-year average. One of the biggest out-of-control blazes forced everyone out of the Wemotaci First Nation reserve, 300 km north of Trois-Rivières, on May 28. Smoke from early forest fires blanketed Montreal and Ottawa. The air quality index in one Montreal neighbourhood was more than five times higher than the threshold for "poor" air quality and more than two times worse than a record-breaking smog day in 2008.  Acrid smoke from Quebec fires also drifted some 800 km south, prompting complaints about the smell of smoke from several U.S. states. In northern Ontario, an exceptionally dry winter-spring put forest fire officials on high alert. They were almost guaranteeing a more active fire season than in 2008 and 2009 – the lowest on record back-to-back. And why wouldn’t they? The season’s first fire north of Thunder Bay occurred on March 17 – the earliest fires had been reported in 15 years – and several communities in Northern Ontario had implemented bans on open burning prior to April 1.  Adding to the threat was nice weather that encouraged people to spend time outside (bonfires and BBQs anyone?). To top it off, forest fire fighters were worried about the low water levels in most lakes and rivers. But while all signs hinted to a season of infernos, conditions turned less threatening with timely rains and scarce dry lightning. In the end, it turned out to be another quiet year in Ontario – the fourth in a row.

In Manitoba, fires and thick smoke on June 22 forced officials to evacuate 200 people in Cranberry Portage.  The persistent haze drifted south to Winnipeg, reducing visibility to less than 1 km in places. In July, the number of forest fires spikedin northern Manitoba under exceptionally hot and dry conditions. In total, there were between 15 and 20 per cent more blazes than normal with an average number of hectares burned. Although wildfire counts in Saskatchewan were near normal and things seemed quiet, unattended fires consumed a huge tract of wilderness – the greatest in at least a decade. In Alberta, the wildfire season started earlier due to an unusually dry winter, which led to a high number of major spring wildfires.  Officials said an increase in lightning activity contributed to a record-breaking number of fire starts (1,817), however, only 84,000 hectares were consumed or one-third less than normal.

“Monsoon” Rains Flood B.C. Coast

Dry summer weather along B.C.’s Pacific Coast ended abruptly on August 31 with the beginning of the wet season – some six weeks earlier than normal. Vancouver International Airport logged 166.4 mm of rain in September, which was just a thimble shy of the 169.4 mm record set in 2004. Victoria set a record with 112.3 mm of rain, surpassing the 1959 record of 86.4 mm by a wide margin. Up and down the coast torrential downpours led to flooding. Port Hardy on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island received a massive 282 mm in September, breaking its previous record of 260.4 mm. About one-third of the rain fell over a 12-hour span on September 24 causing five roads to close. Adding to the mayhem were high winds that brought down power lines. At nearby Port Alice, the deluge generated a massive wall of mud and debris four metres high and about 30 metres wide as it roared down an area mountain blocking access to part of the village and the local pulp mill along the way. Emergency measures officials airlifted hundreds of residents and workers from several coastal communities. About 80 residents of the First Nation reserve at Kingcome Inlet across the Queen Charlotte Strait saw houses pushed off stilts and septic tanks flooded by rising waters. A month later, they started moving back but faced a mould-infested mess with homes that won’t be livable until spring 2011.

In the Bella Coola Valley on the coastal mainland, between 200 and 320 mm of rain fell in September with two-thirds of the total falling in a 36-hour period on September 24-25. The ensuing washouts damaged several roads and the airport runway, severed the only highway into town, and wiped out several small businesses and farms, prompting authorities to issue a state of emergency. Four weeks later, flood-weary residents had to endure another deluge as torrential rains pounded the region on October 18-19. Officials issued more flood warnings and emergencies, the same homes were damaged and rains wiped out three-quarters of the winter feed with no financial assistance for ranchers. To top it all off, residents faced roaming grizzly bears when electric fences used to keep out wildlife were washed away. Many from the Valley became believers in the old adage that bad things come in threes when October’s flooding marked the third incidence of isolation that year; the first, on August 17, occurred when forest fires threatened the community.

Winter Hits Alberta and B.C. Early and Hard

A ridge of high pressure set up over northwestern Canada at the start of this winter sent a pipeline of cold air from the high Arctic down over British Columbia and Alberta. When skies cleared of cloud in Alberta, it seemed that every bit of heat was lost and minimum temperatures plunged to some of the coldest temperatures ever seen for November. Indeed, the unofficial word was that on November 23 temperatures were among the coldest on Earth, out-freezing the North Pole, Siberia, Greenland and every location in Antarctica except the South Pole. Among the most frigid in Alberta were: Drumheller -34.7°C; Edmonton -34.9°C; Red Deer -35.3°C; Banff -35.6°C; Coronation -36.5°C; Rocky Mountain House -37.8°C;  and Sundre -39.3°C. Whether any were the coldest place on Earth is debatable, but with temperatures dipping close to -40°C who’s measuring? Especially when a moderate wind speed is added in that brings wind chills approaching -50. In Calgary, not only did it feel like winter, it looked the season with 20 cm of snow on the ground from blizzards days before. The big freeze also put a huge strain on the power grid (with record energy consumption) and road-side assistance efforts (motorists faced waits of five hours or more). Freeze and later thaw wreaked havoc throughout Calgary with a slew of burst and frozen pipes and a Bow River ice jam. 

Across the mountains in British Columbia the deep, dense cold air filled every nook and cranny turning any on-shore moisture into snow. The early icy blast of winter gave southern B.C. and the Interior a thick cover of snow that downed hydro lines, shutting off power to 16,000 customers on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands and 23,000 in the Fraser Valley. Once power was restored, energy consumption rose by about 20 per cent as people turned up the thermostat to stay warm. The early winter stormhammered sections of southern and central Vancouver Island, clogging roads and snarling traffic. Nanaimo broke a record for snowfall on November 20 with 24 cm. The city also experienced near white-out conditions.  Snow and cold sent motorists in and around Victoria slip-sliding into several multi-vehicle pile-ups. The Malahat Highway was closed by RCMP for three hours after three semi trailers lost control at Shawnigan Lake. And B.C. ferry services were delayed or cancelled. In Vancouver, winter’s early arrival wreaked havoc on the roadways and crowded emergency shelters. Six deaths in British Columbia were linked to the winter weather, mostly from traffic-related causes. With minimum temperatures in the Okanagan dipping below -20°C, ice-wine producers began their earliest and best- ever harvest on November 22 and finished it a day later.

Weather Bombs and Nor'easters Explode Over the Gulf of St. Lawrence

On December 5, an intense weather system south of Nova Scotia exploded into a classic marine weather bomb with a central pressure of 962 mb and winds approaching hurricane status. The storm took an unusual track north and northwest across the Maritimes, over the Bay of Chaleur and into eastern Quebec. Heavy rains fell over the eastern Maritimes and turned to snow in the cold air over western New Brunswick. But it was the powerful winds and storm surge that gave the biggest punch. The combination of strong winds travelling over long stretches of open water, deep low pressure and 4-m high tides created a mammoth storm surge that battered communities and the shoreline along the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

In the Maritimes, the storm resulted in power outages, school closings, ferry service suspension and a rare shutdown of the Confederation Bridge to all traffic. The wall of water crashed over shoreline roads, eroded the coastline and swamped properties. Along the Bay of Chaleur in New Brunswick, two dozen homes were damaged and several basements flooded, forcing numerous evacuations. The damage was worse in Quebec. About 500 homes were damaged, from coastal communities in the Gaspé to residential properties as far west as Charlevoix, near Quebec City. Even Chicoutimi, along the Saguenay River, had high water levels.  At Rimouski, the water level was a record 5.54 m – a once in 200-year occurrence. In Sainte-Luce and Sainte-Flavie, more than 80 per cent of the municipalities were affected by the high waters causing damages in the many millions of dollars.

See Number 5 of the Top Ten Weather Stories.

Apparently, those resilient Maritimers living along the east-facing coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence don’t live by the rule “three strikes and you’re out”. On the first day of winter, a stalled nor’easter pummelled the region with driving rains, near-hurricane force winds and a towering storm surge between 2 and 3 m during a full-moon phase and a run of high tides. It was the third powerful storm in three weeks, each a week apart. For three consecutive days, winds and waves hammered the coast, submerging roads and wharfs, eroding fragile sand dunes and forcing people from their homes. The storm had a huge impact on people and places just days before Christmas. The wicked weather forced closure of the Confederation Bridge and kept ferries docked, stranding thousands of travellers and leaving tonnes of cargo undelivered. The storm knocked out power in several coastal communities. Waves crashed everywhere.  Some breakers were as high as 8 m. The hardest hit areas were in Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island, in New Brunswick along the Acadian and Northumberland Shore and in Prince Edward Island along the exposed shores of Queens and Prince counties. In Eastern Quebec, the storm hit the Magdalen Islands with high tides and strong winds exceeding 110 km/h. Gigantic waves roared over wharfs and roads, crashing into yards and flooding entire neighbourhoods.

London’s Snowmagaddon

Snow began falling in London, Ontario and to the lee of Lake Huron at 6 p.m. on December 4. It finally stopped 100 hours later and took a breather for a couple  hours before resuming again for another nine hours.  Over four days, an astonishing 75 cm fell on Ontario’s fourth largest city. Greater amounts fell southwest of London and more than double the total fell to the north in Lucan, the epicentre of the snow assault. With sustained cold northwesterly winds moving over the relatively warm, open waters of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, classic lake-effect streamers were generated. The continuous snow bursts set up and became locked into a stagnant wind pattern, with lake effects pummelling London and the surrounding district with record-breaking snowfalls from what was truly a home-grown storm. Among the areas hit hardest were Strathroy, St. Thomas, Grand Bend and London. At the storm’s peak, the city faced 33 hours of blizzard conditions with winds blowing between 17 and 28 km/h and a -12 wind chill. To the north, Collingwood, Beeton and Alliston were buried with 80 to 105 cm of snow. The thin streamers meant nearby areas were barely touched, including Sarnia, Chatham, Kitchener-Waterloo and Woodstock. For at least three days in London, schools and colleges, mail delivery, public transit and city services were shut down. Also affected were the London Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and non-essential surgeries. The city didn’t call out the army or declare a snow emergency, but it did request assistance from willing nearby communities for what became the costliest storm in the city’s history. The impressive five-day total equalled the total snowfall for all of last winter in what is one of Ontario’s snowiest cities – quite a feat given that the first official day of winter was still more than 10 days away.