Runner-up stories for 2007

Table of Contents

Some of the Worst Prairie Flooding Ever

In early April, heavy rains in the upper reaches of the Red River in North Dakota caused a significant rise in water levels. When ice jammed at the mouth of the Winnipeg floodway, major flooding occurred around and north of Selkirk, Manitoba. Waters from the swollen, ice-filled Red River rose to the floorboards in some homes and over the hoods of a few vehicles. On April 4, 100 seniors in Selkirk left their riverfront condominiums. At the Marine Museum of Manitoba, raw sewage spilled into the collection and ice-infested waters pushed ships off their foundations. The return of chilly weather in early spring stalled the massive ice jam north of Selkirk. Frozen Lake Winnipeg and troublesome frazil or slushy ice slowed the river flow - making it one of the longest ice jams in the province's history and one of the biggest ever seen on the Red River. By mid-April, the flood watch ended when the Red River dropped more than a metre in less than a day and citizens started the arduous cleanup. However, flooding in Manitoba was not over. Water levels remained above normal during May and June when late spring rains were 33 per cent above normal and cool temperatures slowed the melt. What followed became the third largest summer flood on the Red River behind the summers of 2005 and 2002. On the morning of July 2, the Red River in Winnipeg sat at 4.6 metres - about 3 metres above normal. Lake Winnipegosis was at its highest level since the 1950s. Nearby campgrounds and popular hiking trails remained partially flooded and closed for most of July.

In Saskatchewan, it was the third year in a row that heavy spring rains and extensive flooding hurt farmers in northern and central parts of the province. Sixteen communities declared a state of emergency because of rising waters from rapidly melting snow. Over 100 emergency workers with the Red Earth First Nation worked tirelessly in that community to save homes when floods threatened on April 22, just days after half the residents were evacuated.

Water levels in Fishing Lake, about 200 km east of Saskatoon, were higher than local authorities had ever seen, with a further 30 to 40 cm coming. In late April, while residents built wave breakers and filled sandbags, emergency officials urged others to pack up and leave. Nearby, Waldsea Lake stood 534.8 metres above sea level, a metre higher than last year. For two more weeks, winds tossed ice slabs onto lakefronts and beaches around Fishing Lake. Ice crushed piers, downed hefty trees and shoved sheds and boats into the woods. When the ice no longer threatened, gusty 60 km/h winds generated waves as high as one metre. Dykes failed from repeated hammering by ice and waves and water flowed into homes and cabins. More flooding in northeastern Saskatchewan in late May followed a week of heavy rains. Farm fields lay under water and crops seeded early started to rot.

Spring flooding in Alberta was focused in the northern half of the province where a heavy snow pack (amounts seen once in 25 years) increased the flood risk in the Grande Prairie, Peace River and High Prairie areas. For the second June in a row, heavy rains drenched southern Alberta on several occasions. On June 5, a one-hour severe thunderstorm centred on Calgary generated instant flooding, swamping vehicles and inundating homes. Several people paddled in rubber rafts along downtown streets as waves swirled in flooded intersections. Emergency crews waded into waist-deep waters to rescue motorists trying to float vehicles. At a cemetery, flood waters damaged 200 graves and washed away a number of precious mementos. Estimated losses totaled $10 million to flooded basements and roadways. Rainfall intensities approached 100 mm in 18 hours, nearing 100 year-returns.

Also on June 5, at Stoney Plain, west of Edmonton, torrential rains of 50 to 80 mm - along with marble-sized hail - flooded the city in a two-hour period. Drivers of big pickups rushed through water a metre deep, angering homeowners whose already flooded basements were flooding again with each passing wave. The storm uprooted a few big trees and blew off man-hole covers releasing a geyser. It was hailing and raining so hard you couldn't see a metre in front of you. Although parts of Edmonton got 50 mm, less than 3 mm fell at the city airport. Two weeks later, another heavy downpour deluged Southern Alberta, breaking a 110-year-old rainfall record for the day at Calgary. Several communities along the tributaries of the Bow River, west of Calgary, got 70 mm of rain over the Father's Day weekend forcing rivers to surge their banks. Rising waters flooded many golf courses in the Foothills keeping all but the die-hard golfers away.

Saskatoon's Nastiest Blizzard in 50 Years

Following near-record warmth during the first week of January, winter turned vicious across Western Canada when a huge winter storm brought icy blasts and deep snowdrifts to much of the West. The storm's wrath was felt no where more than by residents of Saskatoon. On January 10, the most intense blizzard in half a century struck Saskatoon and region, claiming four lives and marooning the entire city in a humongous whiteout. Storm-stayed residents aided friends and strangers alike by pushing and shoveling and caring. Many businesses sent employees home early and kept their doors open to provide shelter. Motorists waited patiently for hours in interminable traffic jams, stuck on highway ramps or caught behind minor accidents. A usual 10-minute drive home became a four-hour commute. Abandoned vehicles littered streets. City transit struggled through drifts and whiteout until finally shutting down service at 6 p.m. Cellular networks became overloaded, leaving callers with busy signals. Even the mail didn't go through. Officially, Saskatoon received only 17 cm of snow with some surrounding areas getting 28 cm. However, it was the powerful winds that blew snow into monstrous waist-high drifts and lowered visibility to zero for hours that created such dire conditions. Many residents said it was the most frightening time of their lives. Total cleanup costs approached $1 million. On the heels of the blizzard, frigid Arctic winds pushed temperatures into the -30°s with a windchill of -46 causing scores of frostbitten patients to show up at hospital emergency departments.

West Nile Virus Infects Record Numbers

A record number of Canadians became infected with West Nile virus in 2007 - some 2,351 people compared with the previous record of 1,481 in 2003. This year, 98 per cent of all clinical cases occurred on the Prairies where the deaths of eight people were linked to the virus. Saskatchewan led the way with 1,422 confirmed or suspected cases of the illness. Except from travel outside the province, no cases of West Nile virus were contracted within the three northern territories, Atlantic Canada, Quebec or British Columbia.

Perfect mosquito breeding conditions in summer and the delay of the first hard frost in fall facilitated the spread of the potentially deadly virus. Further, more infected mosquitoes and birds were able to survive the mild winter. Heavy rains in the Prairies in May and June - 150 per cent above normal - created plenty of standing water where mosquitoes like to develop. Record heat and humidity followed in July and early August providing excellent breeding conditions for the mosquito largely responsible for transmitting the virus to humans. Not only did mosquitoes make an earlier appearance in 2007, they bred in greater numbers, increasing the risk of exposure to the virus. Further, with warmer summer weather and a prolonged frost-free fall, more people were outside longer increasing their exposure to mosquitoes.

A Valentine's Day "Weather Massacre"

A massive winter storm stretching halfway across North America packed a lot of wicked weather - from terrible tornadoes in Louisiana to Paul Bunyan-sized snowfalls in southern Quebec - along with a good amount of rain, freezing rain, ice pellets and biting windchills. The powerful winter storm slammed into Ontario and Quebec just prior to and on Valentine's Day, forcing the closing of schools and sending cars and trucks spinning into ditches. In Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal the weather forced countless delays and flight cancellations, mostly to large American cities.

For florists, their busiest day of the year was their worst nightmare. Bursting with stock and scrambling to get it out the door, florists usually double the number of delivery drivers they employ on Valentine's Day. But with forecasts on February 14 projecting huge snowfalls and treacherous road conditions, they had to quadruple the number of drivers, yet still couldn't make all deliveries.

Hamilton-Burlington, Ontario took the brunt of the storm as frigid air blowing over warm lake waters created a narrow snow band aimed directly at the western end of Lake Ontario. It dumped between 40 and 70 cm of snow in the area. Environment Canada reported 30.4 cm on February 13, making it the snowiest February day on record; 16 cm the next day made it the snowiest Valentine's Day ever. The combination made for the greatest two-day snowfall in Hamilton's history. The storm caused nearly 1,000 accidents across southern Ontario, including a 70-car pile-up near Ancaster. More than 3,000 calls were made to road-side services, mostly for pulling cars from snowbanks and fixing flat tires.

In Quebec's Eastern Townships, the storm buried Sherbrooke in 55 cm of snow. Montrealers dug out of 15 to 20 cm of fresh snow, piled into deeper drifts by 60 km/h winds. Some Old Montreal eateries lost about 25 per cent of the night's bookings through last-minute cancellations.

Ice along the East Coast - Too Thin and Too Thick

For the second straight year, a late beginning to freeze-up in Atlantic Canada kept the thickness of sea ice in the Northumberland Strait and Gulf of St. Lawrence well below normal. Ice thickness was about half the norm prompting the Canadian government to reduce quota numbers in the East Coast seal hunt. Several storms late in winter broke up the thin ice, crushing and drowning thousands of baby harp seals.

In waters off northeastern Newfoundland and southern Labrador, strong northeasterly winds in April pushed the ice pack against the coast creating strong ice pressures. Such stress occurs when sea ice is thicker than 15 cm and winds exceed 45 km/h for more than six hours. Much of the spring ice off Northeastern Newfoundland was more than 30 cm thick. The pack ice also contained harder and stronger old ice than is normal, creating exceptionally difficult conditions for fishing vessels. The Canadian Sealers Association said conditions were the most severe in 30 years. During the third week of April, a shift in wind to the northeast tightened the ice pack, trapping more than 100 vessels. The ice punched holes in ships prompting Coast Guard icebreakers to begin smashing through the massive pack in a bid to free sealing vessels. Helicopters rescued more than 50 fishers from their ice-bound boats, but 500 remained stranded in cold, damp weather for nearly three weeks. Lodged in ice more than a metre thick, some vessels tipped over, damaging their hulls and keels. By the end of April, southwesterly winds began moving the ice out to sea.

The Wildland Fire Season

The 2007 wildland fire season in Canada was below average for number of wildfires and near average for area consumed when compared to the 10- and 20-year averages, according to the Canadian International Forest Fire Centre. As of September 1, Canada recorded 6,324 fires involving 1,661,174 hectares. Spring was late coming across most of western and central regions and one of the wettest in a decade. Consequently, the fire season in the West was slow to start. In the East, however, a warm and dry April and May brought early fire restrictions over much of central and northwestern Ontario and the Maritime provinces. The fire situation continued to escalate in the East throughout the second week of May, especially in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. Fire crews from outside the region were mobilized during May in Ontario and later in Quebec. On May 13, firefighters in northwestern Ontario battled four out-of-control blazes that had forced 300 cottagers from their homes west of Thunder Bay. In late May, a huge forest fire forced the evacuation of 1,500 residents in Sept-Iles, Quebec as fires came within five kilometres of the city. Four other out-of-control forest fires burned in the Lac St. Jean area and hundreds of firefighters from outside Quebec joined in the battle. By late June, the fire threat shifted to the Northwest Territories, Yukon, south central British Columbia and northern Alberta.

Across the Prairies, the wildfire situation was quiet throughout most of July, surprising given the record high temperature and humidity. Several large fires in northern Manitoba filled the skies with black cinders and thick smoke near Thompson, Nelson House, Wabowden and as far east as Kenora, Ontario. The smoke prompted the evacuation of residents from communities such as South Indian Lake and Lynn Lake. In the middle of July, tinder-dry conditions in the southern Rockies prompted Alberta to raise the fire hazard to "very high". A prolonged heat wave, combined with thunderstorms, fuelled wildfires across the province in July and early August, resulting in more fire bans. The added humidity triggered more dry lightning-caused fires.

The first week of August saw multiple fire starts in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. The continuing hot dry weather throughout south central British Columbia gave fire crews a priority fire to contend with. By August 15, fire bans were in place across southern British Columbia, Alberta and into Saskatchewan's Cypress Hills. By the end of August, the wildfire fire season in Canada showed signs of winding down.

A Thanksgiving Day Cooker

A narrow tongue of extremely warm air with sauna-like haze and humidity reached into southeastern Canada from the American south during early October, pushing temperatures 10°C above normal. On the Thanksgiving weekend, with turkeys roasting in many kitchens across Eastern Canada, outdoor temperatures soared to well above 25°C - unprecedented so late in the year.

Toronto was one of the hot spots at 31.5°C with a humidex reading of 39 - uncomfortable conditions for the dog days of summer let alone on Thanksgiving! Until this year, the warmest Thanksgiving on record in Toronto was in 1949 when the temperature hit 26.1°C. Among the cities setting new records of 30°+ were Hamilton, London, Sarnia, Windsor, Kitchener, Toronto and Niagara. Typically in southern Ontario, temperatures hover around 15°C on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, making a reading of 32°C for four days in a row - a record for the latest-in-the-season, and the longest consecutive string of +30°C days in October on record for both locations. The Thanksgiving weekend was the hot mark for what became the warmest October and warmest September-October on record in southern Ontario.

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