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Top Weather Events of the 20th Century

1900-1920 | 1921-1940 | 1941-1960 | 1961-1980 | 1981-1999

1900-1920

  • Rogers Pass Avalanche - March 5, 1910. Sixty-two train men and labourers perished 2 km west of Rogers Pass, BC, when their engine was hit by an avalanche and hurtled 500 metres into Bear Creek. Over 600 volunteers used pick axes and shovels to dig through 10 m of snow in the search for survivors.
  • World's Worst Iceberg Accident - April 15, 1912. The unsinkable Titanic collided with an iceberg 700 km southeast of Newfoundland, causing the death of 1,500 people and making headlines around the world.
  • Deadliest Canadian Tornado - June 30, 1912. A late afternoon tornado slashed through six city blocks in Regina, killing up to 40 people, injuring 300 others, destroying 500 buildings and leaving a quarter of the population homeless. Better known as the "Regina Cyclone", the tornado lasted three minutes but it took 46 years to pay for the damages.
  • Black Sunday Storm - November 7-13, 1913. One of the most severe Great Lakes storms on record swept winds of 140 km/h over lakes Erie and Ontario, taking down 34 ships and 270 sailors. Days later, the crew of one ship was found lashed to the mast, frozen to death -- only the ship survived.
  • Storm Claims Sealers - April 1, 1914. Seventy-seven sealers froze to death during a violent storm on the ice off the southeast coast of Labrador. At the height of the storm, from March 31 to April 2, the temperature was -23°C with winds from the northwest at 64 km/h.
  • Fog Causes Ship Collision - May 29, 1914. Shallow river fog contributed to the collision of two ships -- the CP Liner Empress of Ireland and a Norwegian coal ship, The Storstad -- in the St. Lawrence River, 300 km seaward from Quebec City. The liner sank in 25 minutes, and 1,024 passengers lost their lives.
  • Victoria's Snowstorms of the Century - February 2, 1916 and December 28-29, 1996. Huge snowstorms, 80 years apart, clobbered Canada's "snow-free" city with more than 55 cm of snow. The December storm dropped 80 cm of snow in 24 hours, 125 cm in five days with cleanup costs exceeding $200 million (including a record insurance payout for BC of $80 million).
  • Killer Lightning - July 29, 1916. Lightning ignited a forest fire which burned down the towns of Cochrane and Matheson, Ontario, killing 233 people.
  • Princess Sophia Sinks off BC - October 23, 1918. A Canadian steamship carrying miners from Yukon and Alaska became stranded on Vanderbilt Reef. Rescuers were unable to remove the 268 passengers and 75 crewmen due to a strong northerly gale. The next day, weather conditions worsened and the ship sank killing all on board.

1921-1940

  • August Gale Kills 56 in Newfoundland - August 24-25, 1927. A hurricane swept through Atlantic Canada washing out roads, filling basements, and swamping boats. In Newfoundland, 56 people died at sea.
  • Multiple Tornadoes hit Southern Manitoba - June 22, 1922. Hot and humid air led to the development of several tornadoes in the area. Five deaths and hundreds of injuries were attributed to the event which caused $2 million in 1922 dollars.
  • Dustbowl Era - 1930s. Between 1933 and 1937, the Prairies experienced only 60% of its normal rainfall. Thousands of livestock were lost to starvation and suffocation, crops withered and 250,000 people across the region abandoned their land to seek better lives elsewhere.
  • Great Lakes Freighter Hit by Lightning - June 26, 1930. Lightning struck the bow of the John B. King drillship in the St. Lawrence River, igniting a store of dynamite onboard. The explosion killed 30 people and injured 11 others.
  • Ontario's Coldest Day on Record - December 29, 1933. Fourteen sites recorded their coldest-ever temperature, including Ottawa at -38.9°C and Algonquin Park at -45.0°C. Outside Ontario, record cold temperatures were also set in Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
  • Cold Wave Grips Eastern North America - February 1934. A cold wave engulfed the continent from Manitoba to the Atlantic seaboard and down the east coast to Palm Beach, Florida. Ice trapped fishing vessels off Nova Scotia, hospitals were jammed with frostbite victims and, for only the second time in recorded history, Lake Ontario froze completely over.
  • Cold Wave Freezes Victoria and BC's Lower Mainland - January 19-29, 1935. Winter weather gripped Vancouver, with temperatures dipping to -16° and snowfall greater than 40 cm. While the extreme cold caused fuel shortages and frozen water supplies, a quick thaw followed by 267 mm of rain over the next four days added extensive roof damage across the city, including the collapse of the Forum -- the city's main hockey and curling rink.
  • The Deadliest Heat Wave in History - July 5-17, 1936. Temperatures exceeding 44°C in Manitoba and Ontario claimed 1,180 Canadians (mostly the elderly and infants) during the longest, deadliest heat wave on record. Four hundred of these deaths were caused by people who drowned seeking refuge from the heat. In fact, the heat was so intense that steel rail lines and bridge girders twisted, sidewalks buckled, crops wilted and fruit baked on trees.
  • Hottest Day on Record - July 5, 1937. The highest temperature ever recorded in Canada was reached at Midale and Yellowgrass, Saskatchewan when the mercury soared to 45°C.

1941-1960

  • Eastern Ontario's Freezing Rain Storm - December 28-30, 1942. Ice "as thick as a person's wrist" covered telephone wires, trees and railway tracks. In Ottawa, 50,000 workers walked to work for five days. Because of the war, there were few men available to clear the streets and repair lines.
  • Toronto's Worst Single-Day Snowfall - December 11, 1944. A severe winter storm dumped 48 cm of snow on Toronto's downtown, while gale-force winds piled the snow into huge drifts. A total of 57.2 cm fell over two days. In all, 21 people died -- 13 from overexertion. Funerals were postponed, expectant mothers walked to hospitals, and there were no home deliveries of milk, ice or fuel. Of major concern, factories producing war ammunitions had to close temporarily.
  • Windsor's Killer Tornado - June 17, 1946. The third worst killer tornado in Canadian history reared up across the Detroit River, killing 17 people and demolishing or damaging 400 homes in Windsor and the surrounding county. The tornado also took down 150 barns and farm buildings, and uprooted hundreds of orchard trees and full-grown woodlots.
  • Worst Blizzard in Canadian Railway History - January 30 to February 8, 1947. A ten-day blizzard buried towns and trains from Winnipeg to Calgary, causing some Saskatchewan roads and rail lines to remain plugged with snow until spring. Children stepped over power lines to get to school and built tunnels to get to the outhouse. A Moose Jaw farmer had to cut a hole in the roof of his barn to get in to feed his cows.
  • Coldest Temperature in North America - February 3, 1947. The temperature in Snag, Yukon dipped to -63°C, establishing Canada's reputation for extreme cold.
  • BC's Worst Flood of the Century - May-June 1948. BC's Fraser River overflowed, drowning 10, inundating 22,200 hectares, destroying 2,300 homes and forcing 16,000 to flee. Row boats were the only means of transportation in much of the Fraser Valley, and for three weeks Vancouver had no rail connection with the rest of Canada.
  • Red River Flood - Spring 1950. Described as the greatest flood disaster in Canadian history, the Red River crested at 9.2 m above normal near Winnipeg. While 100,000 people were evacuated from Southern Manitoba, miraculously only one drowning was reported. Losses included damage to 5,000 homes and buildings, totaling $550 M in property losses. The Manitoba government decided to construct the Winnipeg Floodway to forestall future flooding.
  • First Person on Canadian Television - A Weatherperson! - September 8, 1954. Canadian television made its debut on this day, and meteorologist Percy Saltzman was the first person to appear on screen. Saltzman continued to present television weather for 22 years.
  • Hurricane Hazel - October 15, 1954. Leaving a nightmare of destruction , Hazel dumped an estimated 300 million tonnes of rain on Toronto, causing lost streets, washed out bridges and untold personal tragedy. In all, 83 people died -- some bodies washing up on the shores of Lake Ontario in New York State days later.
  • Deadly Snowstorm in St. John's - February 16, 1959. A snowstorm with strong winds created 7-metre drifts, blocking main streets and causing six casualties. Another 70,000 Newfoundlanders were left without power, crippled telephone service, and blocked highways, streets and railways. Scores of motorists spent the night at homes along the highways after drifts buried their stalled cars.
  • Fishing Fleet Disaster off Esuminac, NB - June 20, 1959. More than 30 fishermen drowned in the worst storm disaster ever to hit the Gulf of St. Lawrence fishing fleet. Twenty-two salmon boats sank by a sudden, smashing north-easterly gale.

1961-1980

  • West Records Single Driest Year - 1961. Many areas in the drought-stricken Prairies received only 45% of normal precipitation. In Regina, every month but May was drier than normal, and for the 12-month crop year the precipitation total was the lowest ever. The duration, severity and size of the area effectively made this drought the worst on record. Losses in wheat production alone were $668 million, 30% more than in the previous worst year, 1936.
  • Typhoon Freda Hits BC's Lower Mainland - October 12, 1962. Remnants of Typhoon Freda struck BC's Lower Mainland, causing 7 deaths and damages in excess of $10 million. Twenty percent of Stanley Park was flattened. In Victoria, winds reached sustained speeds of 90 km/h with gusts to 145 km/h.
  • Violent Storm Strikes Maritimes - December 1-2, 1964. One of the most violent storms in years struck the Maritime provinces with gales reaching gust speeds of 160 km/h. Three fishing boats, including two large draggers, were lost in the storm accounting for the loss of 23 lives. Halifax and Charlottetown recorded their all-time lowest sea-level pressure ever.
  • "Great Blizzard" Lashes Southern Prairies - December 15, 1964. Heavy snows, accompanied by 90 km/h winds and -34°C temperatures, paralyzed the southern Prairies. Three people froze to death and thousands of animals perished.
  • Winnipeg's Snowstorm of the Century - March 4, 1966. This winter blizzard dropped 35 cm of snow with winds blowing at 120 km/h, paralyzing the city for two days. Winnipeg's mayor issued a warning for everyone to stay at home. The drifting snow blocked all highways in southern Manitoba and forced the cancellation of all air travel in and out of the Winnipeg airport.
  • Blizzards in Southern Alberta - April 17-20 and 27-29, 1967. A series of intense winter storms dropped a record 175 cm of snow on southern Alberta. Thousands of cattle, unable to forage for food in the deep snow, perished on the open range. Army units were dispatched to assist in snow clearing, while food, fuel and feed were airlifted into the province. The good news? The Revenue Minister announced that the income tax deadline for residents of southern Alberta was extended two weeks to May 15.
  • Greatest Rainfall in One Day - October 6, 1967. A one-day rainfall of 489.2 mm occurred at Ucluelet Brynnor Mines, BC - a Canadian weather record that still stands.
  • Montreal's Snowstorm of the Century - March 4, 1971. Montreal's worst snowstorm killed 17 people and dumped 47 cm of snow on the city with winds of 110 km/h producing second-storey drifts. Winds snapped power poles and felled cables, cutting electricity for up to ten days in some areas. In total, the city hauled away 500,000 truckloads of snow.
  • Crater in Quebec Opens During Rainstorm - May 4, 1971. Tragedy struck the village of St-Jean-Vianney, Quebec when heavy rains caused a sinkhole 600 m wide and 30 m deep to appear in a residential area. The crater/mudslide killed 31 people and swallowed up 35 homes, a bus and several cars.
  • Hurricane Beth Soaks Nova Scotia - August 15, 1971. Hurricane Beth brought punishing winds and up to 300 mm of rain, causing considerable crop damage and swamping highways and bridges, temporarily isolating communities on the eastern mainland of Nova Scotia. More rain fell during Beth than during Hazel in 1954.
  • One Cold Year -1972. The only year on record when all weather-reporting stations in Canada reported temperatures below normal on an annual basis.
  • Another Killer Tornado in Windsor - April 3, 1974. Three hundred and twenty three people died when a series of tornadoes struck 11 states in the U.S. and Ontario within an eight-hour period. The tornadoes caused more than $1 billion dollars in damage. In Windsor, one funnel cloud touched down at several locations taking eight lives at the Windsor Curling Club.
  • Edmund Fitzgerald Sinks in Great Lakes Storm - November 10, 1975. A severe storm causes the largest Great Lakes bulk ore carrier ever to break up and sink in 20 m-high waves, killing the entire 29-man crew. Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot later immortalized the ship in a folk song.
  • Groundhog Day Storm Batters Bay of Fundy - February 2, 1976. One of the fiercest storms ever in the Maritimes slammed into Saint John, NB. Winds were clocked at 188 km/h, generating 12-m waves and swells as high as 10 m. Everything coated with salt spray for miles inland and huge chunks of coastline eroded.
  • Blizzard Isolates Iqaluit - February 8, 1979. Weather with -40°C temperatures, 100 km/h winds and zero visibility in snow kept residents of Iqaluit indoors for 10 days.

1981-1999

  • Blizzard Maroons PEI - February 22-26, 1982. A huge snowstorm with up to 60 cm of snow, 100 km/h winds, zero visibility and wind chills of -35°C paralyzed the Island for a week. The storm buried vehicles, snowplows and trains in 5- to 7-metre drifts and cut off all ties with the mainland.
  • Ocean Ranger Disaster - February 15, 1982. Bad weather caused the sinking of the largest semi-submersible drilling rig in the world, 300 km east of Newfoundland. In total, 84 people died in the world's second worst disaster involving an offshore drill ship. Winds of 145 km/h, waves of 21 metres and high seas hampered rescue efforts.
  • Newfoundland Glaze Storm Cuts Power to 200,000 - April 13, 1984. Residents of the Avalon Peninsula were without electricity for days when cylinders of ice as large as 15 cm in diameter formed on overhead wires. The severe, two-day ice storm covered all of southeastern Newfoundland with 25 mm of glaze.
  • Tornadoes in Barrie and Central Ontario – May 31, 1985.  Fourteen tornadoes struck several Ontario communities, namely Barrie, Grand Valley, Orangeville and Tottenham.  The Barrie tornado killed eight people.  In all, the family of tornadoes injured hundreds of people, destroyed or damaged over 1,000 buildings and killed 12 people, tying it with the Pine Lake, AB tornado in 2000 as the fourth deadliest tornadic day in Canada.  The Grand Valley tornado that began near Arthur and moved east to Campbellford is considered one of the longest tracked tornadoes in Canada, travelling over 115 km.
  • Worst Air Crash in Canada - December 12, 1985. An Arrow Airlines DC-8, after refueling in Gander en route to Kentucky, crashed seconds after take-off, killing 248 members of the US 101st Airborne Division and 8 crew. Just before the crash, freezing drizzle and snow grains were reported. The temperature was -4.2°C and winds were light from the west.
  • Black Friday Tornado - July 31, 1987. One of Canada's most intense tornadoes ever struck Edmonton and killed 27 people -- the second worst killer tornado in Canada. Winds reached 400 km/h, cutting a swath of death and destruction 40 km long and as much as 1 km wide. In addition, hail as large as softballs and 40 to 50 mm of flooding rain fell on the city.
  • $4 Billion Drought - September 1987-August 1988. Across the southern Prairies, the hottest summer on record, combined with half the normal growing season rainfall and a virtually snow-free previous winter, produced a drought that rivaled the 1930s in terms of intensity and duration of the dry spell. About 10% of farmers and farm workers left agriculture in 1988. Effects of the drought were felt across the country as lower agricultural yields led to higher food and beverage prices for consumers.
  • Warmest Winter Olympics - February 1988. The Winter Olympics in Calgary experienced some of the warmest temperatures ever for late February. On February 26, Miami's high temperature of 19.4°C was only a shade warmer than Calgary's maximum of 18.1°C.
  • Record Wind Chill - January 28, 1989. It was bad enough when the temperature dropped to -51°C in Pelly Bay, NWT but the wind made the air feel even colder when the wind chill equivalent reached -91°C.
  • Hailstorm Strikes Calgary - September 7, 1991. A supper-hour storm lasting 30 minutes dropped 10-cm diameter hail in Calgary subdivisions, splitting trees, breaking windows and siding, and crushing birds. Homeowners filed a record 116,000 insurance claims, with property damage losses exceeding $300 million -- the most destructive hailstorm ever and the second costliest storm in Canada.
  • Canada's Only World-Weather Record - September 11, 1995. The QE2 ocean liner was struck by a 30-metre wave during Hurricane Luis off the coast of Newfoundland, marking the largest measured wave height in the world. The massive storm covered almost the entire North Atlantic, almost 2,000 km across.
  • Saguenay Flood - July 18-21, 1996. Canada's first billion dollar disaster, this deluge triggered a surge of water, rocks, trees and mud that killed 10 people and forced 12,000 residents to flee their homes. Many roads and bridges in the region disappeared.
  • Hailstorm Pounds Calgary and Winnipeg - July 24, 1996. Orange-sized hailstones racked up close to $300 million in property losses. Hail clogged storm sewers, causing extensive flooding in both cities and in Winnipeg, at least a third of the cars damaged had to be written off.
  • Red River Flood Levels Highest of Century - April-May, 1997. About 2,000 square km of valley lands were flooded as the Red River rose 12 m above winter levels. Thousands of volunteers and soldiers fought rising waters for days. Damage estimates reached a half a billion dollars.
  • Okanagan's $100 million Hailstorm - July 21, 1997. A destructive hail and wind storm ripped through the orchards of the Okanagan. It was the worst storm in memory with nearly 40% of the crop deemed unsuitable for fresh market. The rain and hail was accompanied by winds gusting to 100 km/h that capsized boats in the interior lakes, and caused power outages and traffic accidents.
  • Ice Storm of the Century - January 4-9, 1998. One of the most destructive and disruptive storms in Canadian history hit Eastern Canada causing hardship for 4 million people and costing $3 billion. Losses included millions of trees, 130 transmission towers and 120,000 km of power and telephone lines. Power outages lasted from several hours to four weeks.
  • A Year-Long Heat Wave - 1998. Canada experienced its second warmest winter and warmest spring, summer and fall on record. Temperatures in 1998 were an average of 2.4 degrees warmer than normal and likely the warmest year this century.
  • Costliest Forest Fire Season on Record - 1998. Flames from forest fires destroyed 4.6 million hectares of forests, about 50% more than the normal amount. The 10,560 fires were the greatest number in 10 years.
  • Toronto's Snowstorm of the Century - January 2-15, 1999. A series of storms stalked the city, dumping nearly a year's amount of snow in less than two weeks. In all, the city recorded the greatest January snowfall total ever with 118.4 cm and the greatest snow on the ground at any one time with 65 cm. The storms cost the city nearly twice the annual budget in snow removal.
  • Greatest Single-Day Snowfall Record - February 11, 1999. Tahtsa Lake, BC, received 145 cm of snow, a new Canadian single-day snowfall record, but well below the world's record of 192 cm at Silver Lake, Colorado on April 15, 1921