Runner-up stories and regional highlights for 2002

Table of Content


Canada and the World Still Warming Up

For Canada, it was the tenth consecutive year with above-normal temperatures, although 1998 still holds the record for the warmest year ever. Nationally, the cool spring in 2002 broke the unprecedented string of 19 consecutive seasons with warmer-than-normal temperatures, dating back to the summer of 1997.

Globally, 2002 was the 24th consecutive year with above-normal temperatures and the second hottest year in the instrumental record, knocking last year into third place. An El Nino developed in the Pacific Ocean and although only moderate in intensity, its effects were felt in many countries. Every month in 2002 ranked among the top five hottest ever for those months. January and March were the hottest ever. December marked the 209th consecutive month with warmer-than-normal temperatures globally. The last time temperatures around the world were cooler than the long-term average was in July 1985.

The average global temperature was 14.64°C -- more than 0.5°C warmer than normal.  Temperatures have been rising over the past 100 years, but this slow warming has increased markedly over the past quarter century.  The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1987. According to the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, the global average temperature has risen about three times faster since 1976, compared to that for the past 100 years. Now into the 21st century, global temperatures are more than 0.6°C above those at the beginning of the 20th century. Although yet another warm year is not itself evidence of an enhanced greenhouse effect, the unprecedented increase in global temperatures in the past quarter century has added to the strong and compelling evidence of humankind's contribution to climate change. 

Blazing Forests in Western Prairies and Quebec

Western wildfire managers anticipated a much more active season, given the warm dry fall and winter, followed by a near absence of rains in April and May. For the third year in a row, due to dry conditions, Alberta declared the forest fire season a month earlier and ended up with nearly four times the normal total area burned. The province's largest fire was the House Fire near Conklin. For three weeks it burned out of control and sent smoke drifting as far south as Calgary. At its peak, more than 900 firefighters, 45 helicopters and eight water bombers were working to contain the fire. The fire was so huge that it created its own lightning.

Lightning struck Quebec repeatedly during the first week of July, igniting several large forest fires. In total, Quebec reported more than one million hectares of charred forests, accounting for a third of the total area burned in Canada. Mid-July proved to be the busiest time of the season for those fighting wildfires, with lightning sparking forests in Ontario, Manitoba and B.C. After much-needed rains in late July, the fires  finally slowed. By August, it was so quiet that Canadian fire fighters were able to head south of the border to help with fires in Oregon.

In the end, the Canadian International Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg reported a near-average fire year for Canada, in both the number of fires and the total hectares consumed. By December 1, 2002, 7,832 fires burned 2,800,200 hectares compared to the ten-year average of 7,757 fires and 2,664,140 hectares. The last significant forest fire season in Canada was in 1998.

What Happened to Fall?

Arguably, the most favored season in Canada, our glorious fall - the period between summer's last gasp and the first lasting snow cover - went missing this year. September was warmer than June, but ended in a snap as balmy days turned to polar cold. This year, Indian Summer was measured in mere hours or days. Many gardeners were caught off-guard as early frost and a blanket of snow meant that many chores were left undone. The unseasonable warmth and abrupt cool-off meant high power use and little free energy in parts of southern Canada.

The national average temperature for September, October and November, was 0.8°C, the 12th warmest fall in 55 years, thanks to extremely mild weather in the North and warm sunny conditions in British Columbia. On the Prairies however, it was a much different story. Winnipeg had its coldest October on record and the only October when the average temperature stayed below zero. Many cities on the Prairies recorded this October in their top three coldest ever, including Brandon, Regina and Saskatoon.

For the second year in a row, fall foliage was a disappointment in Central Canada. By the normal peak of the season, only 10% of the trees had changed colours and even these were much less vibrant due to the summer drought and September's record-breaking heat. As summer overstayed, the lack of dramatic temperature change failed to produce a colour change. Instead, leaves stayed green longer, and finally turned to muted yellows and browns or simply curled up and died.

Vintage Year for Canadian Wines

Okanagan Valley wine growers described this year's grape crop as the best ever. In Ontario, vineyard owners were elated by the grape harvest and pronounced it "spectacular" due to the hot, dry weather in August and September which elevated the sugar levels of many grape varieties.

On an unusual note, 2002 featured two ice grape harvests in one year in the Niagara region. Last winter's warmth was bad news for ice wine makers who waited too long for the temperatures to drop below -8°C. By mid-January, 95% of the year's ice wine grapes were still on the vine. In early March, a meagre crop of dehydrated grapes was harvested - the latest harvest on record. Ice wine makers reported a 35 to 50% lower crop yield than normal. However, beginning on December 2, under ideal weather conditions (including the coldest weather in two years), the year's "second" crop of ice wine grapes was picked, making it the earliest ice grape harvest on record.

Record Rains in Halifax

A parade of storms drenched Halifax in late fall, making it the wettest November on record. Nearly 280 mm of precipitation fell at the International Airport, compared to a normal level of 154 mm. November weather systems were frequent, slower-moving, more intense than usual. At mid-month, a huge storm system moved across the Maritimes and then stalled southeast of Halifax, dumping a record rainfall over the region. The Airport got 120.3 mm of rain. The storm left flooded streets and basements across the province. On November 18, Halifax got an additional soaking of 70 mm of rain along with some snow and freezing rain.

Atlantic Canada

Severe Wind Chill Freezes Labrador

Extremely cold weather in Labrador resulted in several wind chill warnings during winter's coldest days. On January 23 and 25, wind chill values near -50°C occurred along the eastern Labrador coast with values falling to -55°C in parts of western Labrador. The intense cold  disrupted schools and other activities.

Atlantic Weather Bombs, Blizzards and Flash Freezes

Although Atlantic Canada experienced its warmest winter since 1969 and driest since 1989, four weeks in January and February were packed with winter weather horrors:  blizzards, heavy snow, intense rains, hurricane-force winds and storm surges.

  • A rapidly intensifying low-pressure system (or "weather bomb" in meteorologists' lingo) resulted in a winter bashing for all four Atlantic Provinces on January 13 and 14. High winds generated waves up to 18 metres, New Brunswick received between 25 to 35 cm of snow and many locations experienced wind gusts over 100 km/h, with peak gusts exceeding 165 km/h in Cheticamp, NS.

  • On February 5, life in Cape Breton Island came to a standstill when a fierce winter storm blew across the region. The storm packed winds of 65 km/h and dumped up to 35 cm of snow.

  • On February 11, more than 15 cm of snow fell in three hours across Prince Edward Island. The temperature dropped from 5°C to -15°C earning it a flash-freeze warning. With powerful winds and zero visibility, the RCMP issued an advisory  for all vehicles to stay off the roads, including ploughs and salt trucks essentially shutting down Charlottetown. Traffic was restricted across the Confederation Bridge. Foul weather also forced the closure of the Canso Causeway and the Trans-Canada Highway from Amherst to Sackville, NB.

Winter Storm Bombs Eastern Newfoundland

On November 17, Newfoundland was slammed by a winter weather "bomb" - a severe storm that develops very quickly. The storm brought life to an sudden standstill in St. John's and other communities along the east coast, central Newfoundland and the Northern Peninsula. Unlike most Atlantic winter storms that hit and run, the intense low stalled just east of the Avalon Peninsula and continued to clobber the east coast for 40 hours or more. In excess of 30 cm of snow whipped by gusts of 100 km/h created blizzard conditions with visibility less than 200 m. The storm forced buses off streets, canceled scores of flights and closed schools.

Powerful Storm and A Weak Tornado

On July 4, a weak tornado near Ste-Jacques, NB uprooted hundreds of trees and damaged several buildings in northwestern New Brunswick. Winds were estimated up to 180 km/h. Trees fell across power lines cutting hydro to 10,000 people. The main storm system struck Charlottetown dumping 74 mm of rain in less than two hours. The heavy rain flooded streets and basements, and knocked out 60 to 100 power transformers.

Bovine Lightning Losses

The Maritimes had one of  its worst summers in the last ten years for violent thunderstorms. Damage caused by storms on July 4 and 23 and August 5 and 18 included power outages, fallen trees and flooded streets and basements. The most vicious storm swept through central New Brunswick on July 23 inflicting considerable damage at CFB Gagetown.  In early August, a couple of days of intense lightning in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island caused numerous power outages and much tree damage. Record heavy rain fell-29 mm at Halifax and 52 mm at Sydney. But the most shocking casualty was the death of more than 70 cows across the Maritimes that were electrocuted by lightning as they huddled together under trees.

Worst Power-Cutting Storm In Years

A raging nor'easter reminiscent of a bad January storm clobbered parts of the Maritimes at the end of the first week of November. Up to 35 cm of snow fell in Nova Scotia. Gusts over 100 km/h were reported steadily for a period of 19 hours. Waves heights of 8 to 9 m pounded the shores of the Cape Breton Highlands and the Gulf Coast of mainland Nova Scotia. More than 200 NS Power workers, supplemented by help from PEI and New Brunswick, battled the province's largest power outage in a decade. Roughly 100,000 customers - 60,000 in the Halifax area alone (one in four households) - were affected by outages caused by downed branches and trees and the weight of snow on power lines. The Confederation Bridge was closed by sustained winds of 123 km/h with gusts of up to 155 km/h. This was the strongest wind speed ever measured there and the first time the bridge was closed to all traffic. The next day, the centre of the intense storm crossed Newfoundland and popped out at least six car windshields when low pressures and high winds combined.

Another Early Winter Storm for the Maritimes

This time it was New Brunswick that was clobbered with a late November storm. The Miramichi received from 15 to 40 cm of snow, along with a heavy dose of ice pellets and high winds that brought down power lines. In the south, melting snow and heavy rain combined with fallen leaves to plug storm sewers, which flooded streets and basements.


Spring Snowfall Beats The Best of Winter in Montreal

On the eve of spring, Montreal got its largest snowfall of the year, some 15 cm. in depth. The blowing snow contributed to several fender-benders across the city, but there were no major injuries. Several flights at Dorval were affected and in the Laurentians, the snow contributed to two fatalities in a head-on collision between an ambulance and a minivan.

Fog and Sun Cause Highway Tangle

Excessive speed and a combination of dense fog and blinding sunshine caused a deadly pileup in the early morning of September 26 east of Montreal on Highway 10. The accident involved more than 49 vehicles, including seven transport trucks.

Hurricane Lili in Quebec

On October 6, Hydro Quebec crews scrambled to restore electricity to over 40,000 customers after violent winds  from the remains of Hurricane Lili knocked out power in Montreal, Quebec City and the Saguenay. Winds gusting up to 90 km/h toppled trees and blew branches against power lines, causing blackouts across the province.

A Cold and Snowy November

Although the early part of  the month was mild, November proved to be particularly cold in Quebec with  average temperatures ranging one to two degrees below normal.  Many cold temperature records were  shattered, with temperatures falling  as low as  -20 °C in the Abitibi region.  In the southwestern Quebec to Gaspé corridor, winter came early, with the total monthly snowfall more than two to three times normal November depths. The main culprit was an intense low pressure system moving along the northeastern U.S. coast, dumping  30 to 40 cm of snow between November 17th and 19th. During this storm, Gaspé airport reported nearly 63cm of snow in a single day - a new record for the area!


Winter's First Big Storm

On January 31, a killer storm in southwestern Ontario brought a messy mix of snow, ice pellets, freezing rain and rain. Fierce winds with gusts up to 110 km/h and a quick freeze turned the region into a skating rink. OPP closed the 401 eastbound near London after a transport truck loaded with more than 35,000 kg of apples rolled. High winds blew down hydro lines and trees. In the Sudbury area, 20 cm of snow fell and the temperature plunged to -20°. Numerous flights in northern cities were either grounded or delayed. Five deaths across the province were directly attributed to the storm.

Winter's Big Blow

On March 9, a powerful weekend wind storm with peak winds to 138 km/h played havoc across southern Ontario. The winds toppled signs, broke tree branches and triggered power outages and accidents. Temperatures dropped from 21° to -7°C in just a few hours. Snow squalls aggravated the situation, creating whiteout conditions. In Toronto, the debris littered some city streets making driving  difficult. Outside the city, 100,000 homes were left in the dark after eight hydro-tower lines broke. Utility workers in Kingston said it was the worst wind storm in a dozen years. In the Waterloo area, blinding whiteouts and torrents of rain caused power outages, uprooted or severed trees, damaged homes and set off false alarms.

Ottawa's Wettest Month Ever

June was Ottawa's wettest month ever when a whopping 224.9 mm of rain fell, nearly three times the normal monthly total. Rising water levels led city officials to close sections of the Rideau Canal for safety reasons. Following another torrential rainfall on June 27, drivers were shocked to see boats passing them on city streets in the west end, as firefighters using rescue boats plucked stranded motorists from their submerged vehicles.

Prairie Rain Gushers Spill Into Northern Ontario

Rains also drenched Northern Ontario between Atikokan and Kenora in early June.  About 200 mm of rain fell over two days triggering washouts and mudslides and closing several highways and smaller roads. For the Lake of the Woods, where water levels were at a 10-year low, the heavy rains were good news.     

 Early Taste of Winter

Around November 17, an early snowstorm hammered southern regions of Central Canada with more than 22 cm of snow plus freezing rain, rain and ice pellets.  With roads resembling skating rinks, more than 1000 traffic accidents occurred in southern Ontario, causing a four-hour wait at accident reporting centres. Following a quick melt, authorities issued a flood warning.

The Prairies

Record Arctic Cold

On January 21, Western Canada was in the grips of a brutally cold Arctic air mass - the first significant cold wave of the winter. At Key Lake, SK the temperature dipped to -52°C, earning it the dubious honour of the coldest temperature in Canada in 2002. At Churchill, MB the wind chill registered at the dangerous level of -60°C.

Weather Misery on April 14

It was a wild weather day across Alberta with a blinding dust storm near Medicine Hat, wind-driven grass fires in Calgary, 30 cm of snow in Edmonton, and deadly avalanches and mudslides in the Rockies. The whole of the southern province was under a wind warning with gusts topping 130 km/h. Near Medicine Hat, the winds whipped soil into blinding dust clouds that led to a 10-vehicle pileup killing four people and injuring sixteen.

Winter's Last Hurrah

On May 9, an icy blast of winter with 10 to 20 cm of snow was a shocker for even winter-toughened residents of Winnipeg. The near-record snowfall left most community softball and soccer games cancelled and scores of cars in ditches outside the city limits.

Other Notable Prairie Summer Storms…

  • June 6 - huge swath of twoony-size hail swept across southern Manitoba

  • July 17 - baseball-size hail near Biggar, SK

  • June 23-24 - 150 to 175 mm of rain near Arcola, SK

  • July 29 - 100 mm of rain over Edson, AB costing $700,000 in property damage

  • June 29 - widespread wind damage from thunderstorms across Saskatchewan and Manitoba knocked down farm buildings.

But It's A Dry Heat!

Record high temperatures engulfed Alberta and Saskatchewan at the end of June. In Edmonton, the thermometer rose to 34°C on June 26 and 33°C on the 27th. The city decided to cancel the Canada Day fireworks for the first time in history due to tinderbox conditions in city ravines and woodlots. In June, firefighters had to respond to more than 350 brush fires within city limits.

In Saskatchewan, temperatures soared to 37°C, prompting health officials to warn about heat-related problems such as heat stroke, cramping and heat exhaustion.

Fog Road Accident

At the end of September, a spectacular crash in morning fog in southern Manitoba involved two semis, a gravel truck and nine cars. Vehicles passed through a wall of dense fog, touching off a massive pileup that left one man dead, two injured and mangled cars strewn along the highway for 200 m. Vehicles continued to collide with one another for 15 minutes. One motorist said the fog was so thick it was like driving through cotton batting.

Slip-Sliding Away in Winnipeg

A few days before Halloween, a prolonged freezing rain  storm coated Winnipeg with a treacherous sheet of ice on roads and sidewalks. Seniors were advised to stay indoors. Hospitals reported numerous cases of sprains, strains and fractures. The three or four hours of icing was much longer than the usual 15- or 20-minute bout of freezing rain. While Winnipeg got 5 cm of ice, 12 to 15 cm coated the ground north of the city.

British Columbia

Floods in Hope

In the first week of January, torrential rains - as much as 150 mm in two days - and melting snows under record warm temperatures flooded streets in Hope, Chilliwack and Abbotsford. For Hope, it was one of the worst floods in years. Swollen creeks brought granite boulders and logs down a mountainside that ended up against front doors. Debris crushed cars and buried neighbourhood streets under more than a metre of rock. 

Heavy January Snowfall

On January 27, heavy snow blanketed BC's Lower Mainland. Parts of Vancouver received a record 25 to 30 cm of snow. Kids were ecstatic and fashioned homemade sleighs from old skis, plywood and plastic milk cartons. Some kids took the wheels off their skateboards and slid down hills. The storm delayed several flights out of Vancouver International Airport. At Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, as much as 35 to 40 cm of snow fell by noon, and two teenage hikers died from hypothermia. In the BC interior, snow  triggered avalanches which blocked roads for 14 hours.

White Deaths

In late January, three experienced back-country skiers died  in an avalanche near Mount Carlyle, BC. The force of the avalanche snapped trees like twigs. In mid-April, following a very cold March, several wet snowfalls and April mildness, an unstable snowpack triggered several landslides and mudslides in the Rockies leading to the deaths of a road worker, two snowboarders and a cross-country skier.

Latest Greatest Snowfall!

A snowstorm over coastal British Columbia on March 18 was the latest and greatest snowfall on record for the city of Vancouver. Among the snow depths were 16 cm at Lynn Valley, 26 at Chilliwack and 14 cm at Nanaimo. Significant late-winter snowfalls of 5 cm or more have occurred only 16  times over  the last 65 years. However, all previous snowfalls occurred on or before the middle of March.

Record Cold on March 19th

Dawson Creek, BC recorded a temperature of -37.3°C, the coldest temperature ever on this date anywhere in the province of British Columbia.

The North

Violent Wind Storm in Whitehorse

On May 1, for about an hour, violent winds gusting to 74 km/h tore through Whitehorse. The wind   toppled trees onto power lines, knocking out electricity in several subdivisions. High winds also ripped the roofing off the Yukon legislative assembly, causing metal and wood to rain down on the front entrance of the main administration building and forcing its closure. 

Cold Start to Spring

Yellowknife had its third coldest May in 60 years, almost five degrees colder than normal. From May 1 to 4, the city experienced a nasty snow storm when over 12 cm of snow fell and winds of 35 km/h reduced visibility.

Variations Across the North

Iqaluit had its third driest August in 57 years with only 41% of normal precipitation. To the west, Inuvik had its fourth wettest August in 45 years. Conditions were reversed somewhat in the fall when Inuvik had its second warmest on record, whereas Iqaluit reported its cloudiest fall with only 122 hours of sunlight compared to a normal accumulation of 193 hours. Confusion reigned in the southern NWT when a cold summer and an ominously cold October (in which century-old records for minimum temperature were eclipsed at Hay River) were followed by warmer temperatures in November.

Quietest Fire Season On Record

With a lot of rain, cool temperatures and an absence of lightning (down 25% from normal), the NWT had the lowest number of fires in history.

Arctic Sea Ice Continues to Shrink

The permanent sea ice in the Arctic continued to shrink this year.   Arctic sea ice melts back each summer, and reaches its minimum extent in September.  Across the entire Arctic Ocean, sea ice cover in September 2002 was less than in any previous year in the satellite observation period, dating back to 1978.  Over these past 25 years, Arctic ice has varied somewhat from year to year, but scientists have identified an overall shrinking of the extent of the permanent sea ice.   In Canadian Arctic waters, although the extent of ice coverage this year was about the same as last year,  scientists have observed the same long term trend towards shrinking ice cover.

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