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Canadian Tropical Cyclone Season Summary for 1996

Prepared by: Richard Lafortune and Diane Oullet

During the 1996 tropical cyclone season, 13 named storms developed, of which 9 became hurricanes.

1996 Storm Tracks Image
1996 Storm Tracks Image

For the Canadian Hurricane Centre (CHC), the 1996 season was not as busy as the previous one. During 1996, four storms--two of which were hurricanes--entered the CHC area of responsibility. 

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami, Florida, is re-evaluating data for a weather system southeast of the Maritime provinces (Nov. 19–21). Consequently the total number of named storms for 1996 may rise by one.

Bulletin Totals for 1996:

  • 43 prognostic messages
  • 48 hurricane information statements

Bertha (July 5–14)

  • 14 prognostic messages – started July 11, 0530Z; ended July 14, 1130Z
  • 13 hurricane information statements – started July 11, 0730Z; ended July 14, 1330Z

Hurricane Bertha, downgraded to a tropical storm after making landfall in North Carolina, brushed the eastern seaboard from Chesapeake Bay to the coast of Maine. The CHC classified Bertha as post-tropical during the early hours of July 14 prior to entering Canadian territory. The remnants of Bertha crossed the Maritimes then passed over Newfoundland before moving out to sea on July 15.

For Atlantic Canada, heavy rainfall warnings were issued. Maximum rainfall amounts ranged from 40 to 95 mm with the highest (70–95 mm) reported to the north side of the storm’s track. Miramichi Airport, New Brunswick, reported 93 mm, which represents an all-time 24-hour record. An unofficial report of 94 mm was received from Fredericton, New Brunswick.

A wind advisory for mainland Nova Scotia and a wind warning for the Cape Breton Highlands were issued; however, the maximum wind speed of 85 km/h was just below warning criteria. Marine wind warnings were also issued around Nova Scotia and throughout the Gulf of St. Lawrence as well as for western and southern Newfoundland waters. Maximum wind speeds were 35–45 knots.

Edouard (August 21–September 3)

  • 15 prognostic messages – started August 31, 1730Z; ended September 3, 2330Z
  • 15 hurricane information statements – started August 31, 1930Z; ended September 4, 0130Z

Slow-moving Hurricane Edouard moved northward near the 70° West meridian and on September 1, was about 500 km south of Cape Cod. Shortly thereafter, Edouard turned northeast and during the late afternoon of September 2, entered the CHC’s area of responsibility. Edouard continued moving northeastward and was downgraded to a tropical storm that evening. The following evening, the CHC classified Edouard as post-tropical and analyzed its centre about 185 km south-southeast of Sable Island.

Heavy rainfall warnings/advisories were issued for Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and southern New Brunswick. The main concern was the slow speed of the storm. Maximum amounts in the range of 95–140 mm fell over southern Nova Scotia. Yarmouth and Shearwater reported 135.6 mm and 133.2 mm, respectively. No significant rainfall was reported in Newfoundland.

Wind warnings were issued for southern sections of Nova Scotia as well as the Cape Breton Highlands. Gusts of 70 km/h were reported along the Atlantic coast of mainland Nova Scotia. Maximum gusts for the Highlands (Les Suêtes) reached 120 km/h. Over Atlantic Canada waters, numerous wind warnings were also issued. Maximum winds reported throughout the region were in the 40–50 knots range.

Seas of 3–5 metres (with seas above 11 metres near the storm centre) resulted in reports of higher than normal surf along the south coast of Nova Scotia. Beach erosion resulted from a combination of high seas and high tides.

Fran (August 23–September 8) – No bulletins

After a lengthy track across the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Fran made landfall on the North Carolina coast with winds of 215 km/h. Within hours of making landfall, Fran was downgraded to a tropical storm while moving towards southwestern Ontario. Shortly thereafter, the remnants of Fran were being analyzed as a low pressure system. Heavy rainfalls were reported with this feature as it continued towards southwestern Ontario. By the evening of September 7, the low entered Canadian territory then subsequently crossed the Eastern Townships of Quebec, the Gaspé Peninsula and northern Newfoundland, before moving out to sea.

A heavy rainfall warning for south and southwestern Ontario was issued. From 45 to 65 mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period between September 6 and 8. No significant amounts were reported in Quebec or Atlantic Canada, where the remnants of Fran were just a weak low pressure system.

Other than a small craft warning for the Great Lakes, wind was not a significant factor within Canadian territory.

Hortense (September 3–16)

  • 15 prognostic messages – started September 12, 0530Z; ended September 15, 1730Z
  • 19 hurricane information statements – started September 12, 0730Z; ended September 15, 1930Z

Just after midnight, in the early hours of September 15, Hurricane Hortense became the first hurricane to make landfall on mainland Nova Scotia in 21 years (the last was Hurricane Blanche in 1975). Though a marginal hurricane at the time, Hortense moved onshore near Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia, about 100 km east of Halifax, with winds near 120 km/h and maximum rainfall rates of 18‑20 mm per hour. Thanks to the speed with which the storm was traveling (50 km/h) such high rainfall rates lasted only 1–2 hours at any location near the storm’s track. Shortly after making landfall, Hortense was downgraded to a tropical storm. Thereafter, it moved south of Newfoundland, weakened and, by the afternoon of September 15, was classified as post-tropical.

Numerous warnings were issued by several forecast offices throughout eastern and Atlantic Canada. These included heavy rainfall warnings, as well as inland and marine wind warnings. An advisory for high water levels was also issued for the Atlantic coast of eastern Nova Scotia.

Maximum rainfall amounts near Hortense were in the 95.0–137.5 mm range with large amounts falling in short intervals. In some cases, the amounts with the storm exceeded normal monthly totals.

A maximum wind speed of 161 km/h was report from St. Paul Island in the Cabot Strait.

Storm surge values included 0.75 metres at Halifax and in excess of one metre along the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia (i.e. east of Halifax). Wave heights in excess of eight metres were reported in the approaches to Halifax Harbour. High water levels were also observed along northern portions of Prince Edward Island.

The CHC started issuing prognostic messages and hurricane information statements during the early hours of September 12--almost 3 days before Hortense made landfall. At that time, Hortense was located well south of the region and moving towards the northwest. It was, however, expected to interact with a large upper trough digging over central North America. This would cause the storm to turn towards the northeast and accelerate. Unlike Hurricane Edouard, Hortense moved rapidly through the Maritimes region.

Notes:

  1. While the NHC classified Hortense as the second most intense storm of the 1996 season, it was the most significant storm of the year for the CHC.
  2. Damage reports included numerous power outages, uprooted trees, blown out windows, damaged roofs, flooding, etc., with more than $3 million in insurance claims.
  3. Other hurricanes of note in Atlantic Canada since Blanche: Both Evelyn (1977) and Bertha (1990) brushed the east coast of Cape Breton while Luis (1995) crossed the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland.