Regional highlights for 2004
Wait 'Till Spring
Beginning on February 27, a powerful blizzard battered parts of eastern Labrador for three days. An extraordinary 121 cm of snow fell at Cartwright, NL. Residents of Red Bay lost power for 42 hours. Wind gusts in excess of 110 km/h reduced visibility to zero in blowing and drifting snow, and officials pulled highway crews off the roads. Parts of the Trans-Labrador Highway between Red Bay and Lodge Bay were finally opened on April 1.
Sea Ice Forces Oil Rig Evacuation
Strong northerly winds blew sea ice towards oil rigs near Sable Island at the beginning of March, forcing the evacuation of about a hundred workers. The ice, which had formed in the Gulf of St Lawrence off Sydney, drifted through Cabot Strait and southward toward Sable Island. Most of the ice floes were at least a metre thick and 20 metres across, with a few as big as football fields. The entire ice field stretched 70 km long and 37 km wide. It is relatively unusual for ice to extend so far south, with the last incidence occurring in 1992.
St. John's Drought and Flood
From May 1 to mid-August, St. John's reported 140 mm of rain - the lowest total for this time period since the Airport began keeping records in 1942. The dry conditions prompted the Newfoundland capital and neighbouring municipalities to toughen restrictions on water usage. June to August was the driest summer since 1967 when 100 mm of rain fell.
To make up for it, residents got a deluge on November 16 when 70 mm of rain fell in less than 24 hours thanks to the remains of the storm that clobbered Halifax two days earlier. The rains flooded streets in St. John's and made driving perilous. Storm sewers backed up and flooded basements to about a metre of water.
Record Lows in Canada's Coldest Province
Frigid temperatures prevailed across most of Quebec in mid-January. Maximum temperatures remained below -20°C and wind chill values varied between -38 and -52. Many cold records were set during this period. The lowest temperature in January occurred at La Grande IV on the 14th at -50.3°C. Making matters worse, about the same time, blizzard conditions prevailed on the Lower North Shore and in the Magdalen Islands with over 20 cm of snow and wind gusts in excess of 90 km/h.
From February 16 to early March, Montreal and its surroundings registered two of the region's worse winter smog episodes in three years. The level of small particulates peaked at very high levels - exceptional from the both the longevity and intensity of these episodes.
April Blows Hot and Cold
On April 12, exceptionally late-season cold air swooped down across the province. At Schefferville, temperatures dove to a low of -31.4°C. Before the month ended, however, the southern and central parts of Quebec came under the influence of a southerly flow. Beauceville registered the province's warmest temperature in April, a sweltering 26.5°C.
Flash Floods and Mud
On July 11, east of Quebec City, a series of supper-hour thunderstorms caused flash flooding in four towns. The raging waters flooded a number of roads, ripped up asphalt and triggered mudslides. The next day a different weather system with similar effects flooded basements in several hundred homes and businesses in the towns of Bromont, Granby and St Hyacinthe. Three days later, heavy rains from the Peterborough storm washed out all road access to the town of Temiscamingue, 650 km northwest of Montreal. About 110 mm of rain fell in 36 hours, flooding the local arena and 20 basements. Heavy rains overwhelmed culverts on the two-lane highway into town, washed away pavement and gravel shoulders and pushed mud and trees onto the highway. Transport authorities closed the highway between Temiscaming and North Bay, ON. And while no evacuations were necessary, town officials set up an emergency centre and issued a precautionary boil-water advisory.
Nine tornadoes struck the province this year (six being the norm). The strongest twister occurred on July 31, packing winds of 180 km/h as it zigzagged through Durham-Sud, about 120 km east of Montreal. The twister damaged cars and houses and ripped off the roofs of several buildings. Smaller twisters hit nearby St. Albert, as well as Chateauguay. Montreal and region received between 40 and 80 mm of rain that day - a factor in accidents that killed two people.
Record Rains from Hurricane Frances
On September 9, the remains of Hurricane Frances triggered heavy downpours over southwestern Quebec, the lower St. Lawrence and Gaspesia. Rainfall extremes included 67 mm in Montreal, 96 mm over L'Assomption, 66 mm in Quebec, 81 mm in L'Etape Parc des Laurentides, 83 mm in the Gaspe, 99 mm in St-Jovite, 100 mm in High Falls and 86 mm in Shawinigan.
A Big Blow for the North.
On September 21, hurricane-force winds struck the Ungava Peninsula communities of Salluit and Ivujivik causing extensive damage to buildings and containers. Because ship supplies for the winter had already come in, getting repair materials shipped by air proved to be very expensive.
Deadly Crash, Search and Rescue Surrounded by Bad Weather
A small plane crashed immediately after take-off from Pelee Island on January 17. Weather conditions around the time of the accident were poor and caused difficulties during search and rescue attempts as rain, freezing drizzle, icing, snow and low visibility impacted these efforts. The crash killed all 10 people onboard. Divers, who spent the following week searching the water among shifting ice floes, were at risk from sudden wind shifts that could cover their entry holes with ice. A preliminary accident report found that the plane was overloaded. A second cause of the crash - icing on its wings - was also suspected.
Highway 401 Whiteouts
Ontario's biggest winter storm occurred on January 26-27. Between Toronto and London, it was a significant 40-hour snow event with 10 to 20 cm of snow on the first day and a similar dump the next day. The nasty weather delayed planes, cancelled trains and spun automobiles into ditches and guardrails. Icy conditions, drifting and whiteouts triggered a rash of accidents on Highway 401. According to the Ontario Provincial Police more than 700 accidents related to the weather occurred on the Highway, compared to a normal day's total of 30.
A New Record for the World's Longest Skating Rink
On February 29, the National Capital Commission closed Ottawa's Rideau Canal to skaters for the season. The canal remained open for 46 consecutive days, breaking the previous record of 43 straight days set in 2000-2001.
Ontario Gets Drenched in May
Going into the Victoria Day long weekend, Essex County in southwestern Ontario was being deluged by a slow-moving rainstorm. More than 100 mm fell on Leamington on May 21, prompting the issue of a flood advisory in the county. As it turned out, May was a soaker in Windsor too. Rainfall totals amounted to 191.6 mm of rain, a close second to the wettest May ever in 1943 at 194.8 mm.
More than 130 millimetres of rain fell in the Orillia area - the most ever recorded on the May long weekend. Many citizens reported flooded basements and washed out roads. Around London, a month's worth of rain also fell on the holiday weekend - filling basements and waterways and frustrating farmers. Police warned boaters and children to stay away from swollen rivers and creeks. In Hamilton, 137.6 mm of rain fell in May breaking the 2003 record of 129.4 mm. For farming communities, it was the third year in a row spring weather had hit hard. Heavy rains, little sunshine and few warm days in May left fields across Ontario soggy and muddy. Many farmers had still not planted and several growers decided it was best to switch to soybeans instead of more profitable corn.
In a rare happening, two tornadoes struck southwestern Ontario on May 19 within minutes and just a few kilometres apart. The tornado that touched down at Gads Hill, near Stratford, might have packed winds of 350 km/h likely the fiercest to hit Ontario in eight years. It was a miracle that no one was hurt. The other tornado, hit about the same time near Mitchell with winds of 180 to 240 km/h. The Gads Hill tornado ripped the roof off one farmhouse and most of its second storey, damaged the farm's silo and destroyed a barn. Some injured cattle had to be destroyed. The storm also uprooted humongous trees and picked up a truck from a driveway, spun it around and dropped it about 10 metres away on a lawn. Power was cut to areas from Walkerton to Alymer.
Falling Trees Kill Two
A band of intense thunderstorms ripped through parts of Ontario on June 9 and a confirmed F1 tornado tore down trees and power lines. Near Gananoque, strong downburst winds felled a tree that crushed and killed a man standing on his front porch. Although a tornado occurred just minutes later, it was determined that straight-line winds not twisting winds felled the tree leading to his death.
In November, a young boy died on a trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton when a falling tree struck and fatally injured him. The tree was 10 metres tall and a metre around at the base. It had been windy and cold that morning, but the weather was not severe. Sustained winds were clocked at 44 km/h, gusting as high as 52 km/h.
Highway Washouts in the North
On October 22, a significant system north of Lake Superior soaked the region around Nipigon and Red Rock with rainfall amounts between 75 and 100 mm. The rain damaged portions of major highways and roads, forcing officials to close four sections of Highway 17. Within a week, another section of Highway 17 east of Nipigon collapsed making it the fourth major washout in one week. CP Rail also worked to repair a 30-metre section of track near the highway that washed out in the flood. Winds blew at 83 km/h, uprooting 300 trees that swept down the Cypress River onto the shore of Nipigon Bay.
Worst Smog and Latest Smog on Record
On October 26, the air quality index climbed to 103 in downtown Hamilton - the worst smog level ever attained in Ontario and the latest smog advisory in the year ever issued by the province. The pollutant was primarily fine particulate matter coming from vehicles, industry and road dust. A reading of 100 or more is considered very poor and hadn't been recorded in Ontario since the government began monitoring air quality more than a decade ago. Other Ontario cities were clear and sunny. Between the escarpment and Lake Ontario, a mass of sinking warm air trapped all the city's pollutants in the downtown core.
On February 10, a 10-cm snowfall, cold temperatures, and vicious winds produced blizzard conditions and icy roads across most of Saskatchewan. It was the second major blizzard in less than two weeks. The storm caused a 50-vehicle pile-up described by some as the worst chain-reaction accident in the province's history. With cars ripped in half, it was incredible that no one was killed. Every major highway in the province was closed. The fierce weather also stranded thousands of travellers and rural students on their way home from school.
A month later, strong winds and blowing snow caused a flurry of accidents in and around Regina including a fatal five-car pile-up northwest of the city. All highways in and out of the city were closed in the morning due to slippery roads and near-zero visibility. Not much snow fell in the storm, but the strong winds and cold temperatures created a lot of black ice.
Fog in February
Dense fog caused transportation chaos in Edmonton on February 25. Puddles of melted snow evaporated, adding to moisture already brought in by light, low-level, easterly winds. At the International Airport, nearly 80 flights were held up over 24 hours due to the thick fog. The only plane that managed to land, and a hard landing at that, was a chartered 737 aircraft from the North. In the fog and darkness, it missed the runway, landing instead in a 30-cm snow pack 15 metres from the runway. The plane's fuselage and landing gear sustained substantial damage and snow was sucked into both engines.
Sandbagged in Winnipeg
Winnipeg became soggy following a pounding rain on March 28 - an all-time record of 33.6 mm for the month that melted snow and submerged sections of the city. Many homeowners mopped their flooded basements. A run of sandbags exhausted the city's supply. Outside Winnipeg, where rainfall was greater, residents worked around the clock to keep rising waters away.
Floods and More Floods in Manitoba
Torrential rains at the end of March swamped ice-choked rivers, leading to extensive overland flooding in the Red River watershed. At spring break-up, moving rivers threw truck-sized hunks of ice over a highway near Selkirk, submerging land and roads in ice and frigid water. Water a metre deep and 40 metres wide surrounded the town's park and closed the Selkirk Bridge to traffic. Elsewhere in the province, waters rose almost two metres at Breezy Point flooding cottages and trailers. Some residents were evacuated twice by boat when the water rose quickly. One resident who had lived in the area for 32 years said the floods were the worst ever. On the Peguis First Nation reserve, hundreds of people filled thousands of sandbags as Fisher River ice jams and mild temperatures threatened to unleash swirling floodwaters. Officials evacuated over 1,000 people from four communities when the river overflowed.
On June 13, a tornado passed 30 km northeast of Vulcan, AB kicking up plumes of dust, ripping the roofs off sheds and tossing several fuel tanks more than 300 metres away. The strong winds snapped trees and yanked fence posts right out of the ground. Further, the tornado stayed on the ground for two to three minutes. Although the day's maximum temperature hovered around 17°C, tornadoes are usually associated with much hotter weather in the summer making this one a bit of an oddity.
On the outskirts of Brandon, MB a weak F1 tornado touched down just before 3 p.m. on June 15. It left startled residents of a trailer park unharmed but their yards littered in debris. The twister smashed car and trailer windows, damaged a few farm buildings and uprooted dozens of trees. Unbelievably, the winds sucked potatoes out of the ground. Nickel-sized hailstones that followed the twister kept residents indoors.
A strong F1 (almost F2) tornado with winds around 180 km/h skipped through Grande Prairie, AB on July 8, tearing a wall off a downtown store, flipping over cars, cutting power to the downtown area and bending traffic lights. The very narrow but powerful tornado raised a pickup truck several metres into the air before dropping it on to the sidewalk, homes and businesses lost sections of roof and siding, and winds downed more than a dozen large trees prompting city officials to declare a state of emergency.
Early Winter Snows
From Edmonton to High Level, AB an early winter blanket of snow surprised several residents on September 8-9. The 10 to 20 cm of white stuff hampered farming operations and golf games. About 20,000 Alberta residents from Edson north to Whitecourt and south to Leduc lost electricity as snowfall caused tree branches to sag and snap over transmission lines.
The first significant snowfall in the Prairies occurred during the third week of October. A slow-moving low-pressure system tracking eastward dropped 15 to 25 cm of snow. Edmonton got 25 cm and Saskatoon more than 15 cm, making it the earliest dump of snow in six years. Winnipeg was spared the snow, but freezing rain turned city streets into a skating rink forcing police to close every bridge in the city. Winter came so quickly that people hadn't time to clean up their yards and maintenance crews scrambled to switch over to winter operations.
Winter in Lotusland
On January 3, winter struck Victoria with a vengeance dumping eight cm of snow at the Airport and sending temperatures plunging to near-record lows in a biting wind. The city got buried again four days later when another 17 cm of snow fell across the region, but by January 9 the ground was bare. Farther up the Island, the stormy weather forced schools to close, cancelled ferry sailings and slowed traffic to a crawl. Vancouver got 8.1 cm of snow during the week and residents were asked to help by unclogging storm drains in front of their homes. Most people took the day off when the snow first fell. Streets and malls were all but dead as the dusting of snow dulled an already slow season of trade.
On March 18, a storm packing winds up to 90 km/h wreaked havoc on southern Vancouver Island, toppling trees that crunched a hydro transmission tower and left the town of Ladysmith and 30,000 customers without power for several hours. In addition, 20 cm of snow fell, blocking the Trans-Canada Highway north of Victoria and preventing thousands of commuters from getting home. Most harbour flights in and out of Victoria were cancelled due to the wind. At Whistler and Blackcomb, resorts delayed the opening of several chair lifts due to strong gusty winds.
Drenching BC Rains
In the BC Interior heavy rains fell early on August 22. The downpour left many homes flooded and some roads damaged. On the east side of Okanagan Lake, 30.5 mm of rain fell in one hour. In Penticton, heavy flooding filled basements and washed out road shoulders in several places. On a good note, the wet weather was great news for crews fighting fires across the province and for everyone concerned by months of low water levels.
In Vancouver, a single-day rainfall record of 91.2 mm was logged at the Airport on September 19. Rainfalls for that month were exceptional all across BC. Only mid-way into September, dozens of stations had already broken their all-time September rainfall totals.
Braving the Elements at PNE
Vancouver almost doubled its normal August rainfall with a total of 75 mm, but the weather couldn't dampen spirits for the rain-swept opening of the Pacific National Exhibition - one of the soggiest in the record books. Over 800,000 fairgoers braved horrible weather that included torrential downpours, hail, severe wind, lightning and thunder. In total, the fair had 12 days of rain, tying the record set in 1960.
A Snow Dump for the Yukon
A Pacific storm dumped huge amounts of snow across Yukon Territory in the middle of January. Four-day accumulations exceeded 50 cm in several places including Mayo, which got hammered with 52.5 cm. Forecasters issued blizzard warnings for the Dempster Highway over the same period with one seven-hour stretch of winds recorded in excess of 100 km/h. Peak gusts reached 117 km/h. The lowest wind chill was -51.
Like It Warm? Go North!
An incredible heat wave engulfed most of Yukon Territory in June, including a temperature of 33.2°C on June 21 at the Whitehorse Airport - its third warmest temperature ever in 62 years. Further, the Airport doubled its longest stretch of +30°C temperatures from four consecutive days to eight. With most Canadians shivering in June, Yukoners were roasting in an unprecedented heat wave. Swift River on the Alaska Highway became the hottest spot ever recorded in the Yukon with an unofficial temperature of 37°C. Among the other warm summer weather highlights: Old Crow had its warmest June on record; Dawson had its warmest day ever on June 20 at 34.5°C (records go back to 1976); and Whitehorse had nine new daily maximum temperature records and nine new minimum temperature records. The rest of the summer didn't disappoint either. July was in the top ten of warmest and August in the top five of the warmest on record for the Yukon.
A September Storm to Remember
On September 21, high winds, heavy rains and blinding snow pounded Nunavut, ripping the roof off one house, knocking down power lines and leaving hundreds of people without power. Environment Canada issued 60 weather warnings for a range of severe weather including gale force winds, rain, blizzards and a rare thunderstorm. Winds approaching 120 km/h battered several communities, including Salluit in Nunuvik, a remote predominately Inuit community of 1,200 people. The wind overturned shipping containers weighing more than 2,000 kg each. It destroyed many sheds and garages, and 16 families were told to leave their homes. The velocity of the wind surprised many elders who stated that they had never seen winds so severe in the fall.
As the weather system moved across the Kivalliq and into the southern Baffin region, it dumped 50.6 mm of rain on Rankin Inlet - more than it usually gets in a month. Iqaluit lost electricity for some time and a group of high school students from the area braved sustained winds of more than 60 km/h, with gusts reaching 90 km/h, when the storm hit during their field trip.
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