Top ten weather stories for 2009: story one

Table of Contents

1. Summer of Our Discontent…Too Much Heat in the Far West, Not Enough for All the Rest

Map of Canada highlighting all of Canada's strange summer weather

This summer had it all! Depending on where you live in Canada it was either too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet or too stormy. All most of us really wanted was average weather. And, believe it or not, when you added it all up that was exactly what we got! Canada, on whole, was less than a half degree warmer-than-normal. Catch all the rain and it totaled only two per cent more than normal. The problem for Canadians was that there was too little weather in the north and far west and too much over the south and east. Parts of the eastern Prairies experienced temperatures more than a degree and a half below normal, making it among the ten coolest summers ever. Atlantic Canada had its wettest summer on record some 42 per cent more precipitation than normal. The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence basin had its 6th wettest and 12th coldest summer in 62 years. On the other hand, the high Arctic experienced its warmest summer – 1.8 degrees C above normal and the Pacific coast had its third warmest and third driest summer.

With Canadians craving patio weather, the big talk from Alberta to the Atlantic was: “Where’s the heat?” Every conspiracy theory from a quiet sun, to ozone holes, global cooling, volcanism and divine intervention was used to explain the “summer that wasn’t”. In reality, the culprit was a drop-down jet stream that normally moves west to east across the Territories but instead sank south along the US-Canada border, ushering in waves of Canadian air. East of the Rockies, Canada lay under a persistently cool, unsettled air mass that wouldn’t budge.  Adding to the meteorological misery was a stubborn upper low, eddying over Ontario or Quebec, spinning a repetitive cycle of rain, drizzle, cloud, fog, cool temperatures and the occasional sunny interval. This cold low blocked any warm American weather from entering the country. By contrast, high pressure in the Pacific – and at times in the North Atlantic – brought warm, sunny, dry weather to British Columbia and the Yukon and, occasionally, to Newfoundland-Labrador and Nunavut.

Some Canadians tried to make good of a lousy situation by claiming they were grateful for a smog-less, energy-saving, mosquito-free, tree-loving kind of summer. Admittedly, energy-sucking air conditioners were silent, resulting in Ontario’s energy producers burning 45 per cent less fossil fuel. For downtown Toronto, it was the cleanest year ever for air quality with zero smog days. Residents of “the big smoke” and those in Windsor, who had to endure record-long garbage strikes, were lucky in one regard. The lack of heat kept the stink factor at a minimum. Even the West Nile Virus came and went with only one human case of the mosquito-borne illness in Saskatchewan, compared to 1,422 cases in the province two years earlier. But overall, weather-weary Canadians were hard-pressed to find much advantage from the year summer forgot.

Record wet weather in Atlantic Canada produced a bumper crop of green and rotting strawberries and raspberries. A lack of berries in Quebec increased the number of bear alerts in several communities. Montrealset a record for the least number of hours of sunshine ever recorded for July –a mere 212.5 hours – easily smashing the previous record of 230.8 hours.  It wasn’t the wettest July on record at Val-d’Or, but with 27 of 31 rainy days it was about as miserable as it gets.   In Ontario, it was so cold that even kids stayed out of the water. It was hard to find more miserable summer weather than in Ottawa-Gatineau. With one cloudburst after another, July was the rainiest of any month on record with 243.6 mm, or more than two and a half times the monthly average of 91 mm at the International Airport. Not only did it rain hard and often, afternoon temperatures averaged 3°C cooler than normal. For beach lovers, pool owners, festival goers and patio-bar patrons it was the year without summer. The Prairies lacked so much heat that severe weather couldn’t form and frost warnings were issued every month across the three provinces.

On the other hand, the west coast faced an overabundance of summer. Conditions that were too hot and too dry fostered the most extensive and expensive wildfire-fighting season on record in British Columbia. Remarkably, hundreds of daily maximum temperatures were eclipsed across the province. In Vancouver, temperatures above 30°C brought smog warnings and oppressive humidity. The city experiences a hot day at or above 30°C once every five years on average, but in 2009 there were four. Of special note were two excruciatingly hot days: on July 29 Vancouver set an all-time high temperature record when the mercury rose to 33.8°C; the next day that record was broken when the temperature topped 34.4°C. It was the first time Vancouver set records on consecutive days and the residents were feeling the impact of all that heat, humidity and smog given that fewer than 5 per cent of residents have air conditioning. Victoria fared no better. On July 29, the city reached an unbelievable 35.0°C. That Vancouver and Victoria recorded the warmest temperatures this year among major cities in Canada is unprecedented and astonishing. In the nearby Fraser River, water temperatures reached near-record highs – 2.5°C above the average when Sockeye salmon begin to exhibit severe stress and early mortality.  

Also of note was the fact that the North was often warmer than the south – especially in July. The historic Klondike town of Dawson City, located about 250 km south of the Arctic Circle, experienced twice the number of hot days (above 30°C) as Toronto; as did Goose Bay, Labrador. On July 29, Whitehorse’s high of 32°C put the northern capital on par with Miami and parts of Spain. At the end of July, temperatures more than 12°C warmer-than-normal in Iqaluit forced some Inuit visitors to the city to return to their communities because of the unbearable heat.

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