Canada's top ten weather stories: a year in review for 2012

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Table of Contents

Go big seemed to be the theme for Mother Nature in 2012 across North America. Super Storm Sandy was said to be the most powerful and biggest Atlantic hurricane in history. But while Sandy was catastrophic for the United States, she was merely a nasty fall storm in Canada; one with a $100 million price tag! The hurricane was a blockbuster in what was another active season. Oddly, it was the third consecutive year that 19 tropical storms developed in the Atlantic basin, which is nearly double the norm. Across Canada, big storms and floods dominated the landscape from January to December leading to mega-buck losses for businesses, governments and thousands of Canadians. Insurers were hit hard by the wicked weather in 2012, facing more than $1 billion in payouts in three of the past four years – an unprecedented and worrisome trend for the industry.

Hot temperatures also dominated the list of major weather stories in 2012. Globally, it was another in the top 10 hottest years spanning 160 years of records. In Canada, it was spectacularly warm – our 16th year in a row. Nationally, it was the fourth warmest on record and for millions of people in Ontario and Quebec it was the warmest year ever. In addition to higher average temperatures, the year featured a winter that went missing, a March with a record for broken records, and a summer that was the hottest of the hot seasons. The incredibly intense, huge and long-lasting March mildness excited meteorologists but stressed farmers who worried that early blooms could succumb to killer frosts. At the top of Canada, big heat led to a big melt with Arctic ice cover shrinking to its lowest extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. The phenomenon was not confined to the North with Atlantic Canada, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes practically ice-free throughout the winter.

With melting comes flooding and 2012 was no exception. In British Columbia, the snowpack was among the deepest measured in years. Soaking rains and violent thunderstorms escalated the flood risk. It was a slow continuous threat that occurred over two seasons and was fought on several fronts along at least a dozen rivers from one end of the province to the other. At Johnson’s Landing, the excess water mixed with an unstable slope that caused a deadly landslide. Thunder Bay, Ontario lived up to its name when thunderstorms led to a torrential deluge and horrendous flooding. A few days later, elements of the same weather system triggered flash floods in Montreal. With more gully washers in Toronto, Hamilton,  Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton, some insurers referred to it as the year of flooded basements. For residents of Perth-Andover, New Brunswick it was ice jamming on the Saint John River that brought on flooding – the worst by a metre of any previous river overflow. And for those in western Newfoundland and Labrador and around Truro, Nova Scotia, it was hurricane and tide-related flooding that forced families from their homes.

Geographically, nature seemed to have it in for Calgary. For the third straight year, violent weather struck the city hard. Last year it was powerful winds. This year it was a repeat of 2010 with a monstrous hailer that inflicted multi-million dollar property losses. Bad luck also hit the East, as farmers struggled against killing frosts, lengthy dry spells, torrid temperatures and insect infestations. Western farmers were more fortunate and forever thankful for one of the best years ever and for avoiding the American drought that did not move northward. The luckiest of the lot were vintners who raised a glass to a bountiful harvest following a spell of exceptionally warm, dry and sunny weather. There were no toasts to the weather on the Prairies, however, as residents there faced a summer of near-record numbers of severe weather warnings highlighted by tornadoes, intense rains, strong winds and hailers. For Alberta it was the most active summer storm season in over 20 years and a record for crop losses due to hail. Saskatchewan reported at least 36 tornadoes – its highest number ever. By comparison, Manitoba weather was largely uneventful.

The following Top Canadian Weather Stories for 2012 are rated from one to ten based on factors that include the degree to which Canada and Canadians were impacted, the extent of the area affected, economic effects and longevity as a top news story: 

  1. The Big Heat
  2. Super Storm Sandy and Another Active Hurricane Season
  3. BC Flooding… Large, Longer and Lethal
  4. March’s Meteorological Mildness
  5. Summer on the Prairies … Warm, Wet and Wild
  6. The Big Melt
  7. High and Dry in the East
  8. The Year of the Urban Flood
  9. Hail to Calgary … Again
  10. Historic Ice-jam Flooding on the Saint John River
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