Top ten weather stories for 2012: story five

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5. Summer on the Prairies … Warm, Wet and Wild

Map of Canada, highlighting the prairie provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Summer on the Prairies started out with short-lived cool temperatures and ended as one of the top ten warmest on record. It followed a spring that was the third wettest and fifth warmest in 65 years of record-keeping. Also of note were frequent summer soakers that eased fears of the drought that was gripping the American Midwest – the worst in 50 years. In southern Manitoba, the skies opened up starting in March, and opened even wider in April and May. Winnipeg’s March-to-May precipitation amounted to 181 mm; normal is 112 mm. Saskatchewan was even wetter with twice the normal rainfall in May and June. June is often Calgary’s rainiest month and this year was no exception with 133 mm falling – well above the monthly average of 80 mm. At times, flood warnings were issued for several Alberta river basins. It was Edmonton’s turn in July when incessant thunderstorms dumped record rains across the Alberta capital. Nearly half the days had thunderstorms for a total of 26 hours. Bouts of heat and humidity that smothered the city fuelled many overnight thunder sessions and one-hour power showers flooded streets and yards. Veteran meteorologists in Alberta couldn’t remember the last time parts of the province came under a humidex advisory for two or more days. At construction sites, workers spent hours manning pumps and drying the ground and equipment. Some motorists had to abandon their vehicles and wade into chest-high water. Other Edmontonians were forced from their homes as basements filled with water. Stoney Plain recorded the most rain and had its wettest July ever with 247.3 mm. Among a litany of summer storms, the biggest rain-maker and most damaging storm in years occurred on July 12. Property Claim Services Canada reported that excessive rain, hail and winds caused insured losses of more than $100 million.

Prairie storm.

Weather forecasters were kept busy on the Prairies with the second most active summer ever for severe convective weather since statistics were first kept in 1991. Summer storms were more frequent and seemed to move slower than usual, taking longer to spread their misery. There were numerous reports of large hail, heavy rain, high winds, frequent lightning and countless localized events including funnel clouds and tornadoes, microbursts, plough winds and gully washers. Of the 63 days between June 13 and August 14 only 11 days were free of severe weather. Among the highlights of summer 2012 were:

  • 371 severe events across the Prairies, with Alberta recording its greatest number at 169 and Saskatchewan its second highest total ever with 135.
  • Fewer tornado events than normal in both Alberta and Manitoba with only seven reported in Alberta and just three weak ones in Manitoba. The lack of moisture over southern Manitoba limited the number of severe events. In sharp contrast, Saskatchewan reported its highest number of tornadoes ever with 33 touchdowns; normal is 13.
  • A very active year for hailstorms – the second highest on record and almost double the average number. In Alberta, it was a record for crop losses. The Crown Corporation insuring farmers since 1938 reported double the payments in excess of $450 million as part of its 11,100 hail claims. Figures do not count losses from hail incurred by private crop insurers, which approached $100 million in Alberta, or non-crop property losses. Such losses in Saskatchewan were even greater.
  • A near-record year for wind with 81 events registering gusts above 90 km/h (just one shy of the record in 2007). In Alberta alone there were a record-breaking 41 wind events – beating the previous high of 37 back in 2007.

Despite the frequency and variety of severe weather, farmers growing field crops, except for canola, benefited from some of the best weather in years. According to Statistics Canada, wheat farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan harvested more of the grain this year (up 7 per cent from 2011), due to favourable weather. Barley production in all three Prairie provinces was up, with more than double the yields in Manitoba.

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