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Canada's top ten weather stories of 2013

2013 - A Year in Review

Floods were the big newsmakers in Canada in 2013. In some cases it was fast and furious rains that were to blame; in others it was a mix of rainfall and snowmelt. Add an urban landscape with little capacity to absorb the aftermath and you have all the key ingredients for an ominous overflow. The biggest flood hit in June when torrential downpours overwhelmed Calgary and vast areas of southern Alberta forcing 100,000 Albertans from their homes and causing billions of dollars in damages. Three weeks later, large parts of Toronto’s core were flooded by one of the heaviest one-day rainfalls in the city’s history. Canadians were wowed by images of the immediate and powerful forces of nature on our streets and in our backyards. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, those two events constitute the first and third largest natural insured catastrophes in Canadian history.  Worth noting is nature’s apparent interest in Calgary. This year’s flooding made it the fourth year in a row that violent weather struck the city hard. Last year, as it was in 2010, a monstrous hailer inflicted multi-million dollar property losses. In 2011, powerful Chinook winds ripped through the downtown at hurricane-force speeds, causing millions more in damages.

Other flood stories included torrential April showers and a sudden snowmelt in central Ontario’s cottage country that engorged rivers and raised water to historic flood levels not seen in 100 years. In June it was swollen rivers that burst their banks in Fort McMurray forcing hundreds to evacuate. Perhaps the most surprising story among them was the actual lack of flooding experienced in the eastern Prairies. The region was facing predictions of yet another major flood in 2013, which would be its third in five years, but what experts considered a “sure” flood became an also-ran when a cold spring eased snowmelt and kept water flows manageable.

“Rebound” was a descriptor for two of this year’s top weather stories. In the eastern Arctic, the coldest summer in 15 years (among other factors) helped slow sea ice melting in the Canadian Arctic Ocean to within three per cent of the normal minimum coverage and resulted in the greatest ice extent since 2005. For the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence, it was one of the wettest years on record – more than 13 per cent wetter than normal – which helped restore water levels.  A single year does not a trend make, especially considering the inherent variability of the global climate system. One weather feature that is a sure thing in Canada is a big storm and our big storms always make the news. In 2013, our biggest newsmakers included two powerful February storms: one that began as an Alberta clipper but soon turned into a powerful Atlantic nor’easter putting millions of Canadians in the East on alert; and another that led to the drowning of five young fishers from Nova Scotia and saddened us all.

On a positive note, we were spared deadly tornadoes and severe drought in 2013. Our air was also clearer than in most years, it was a quiet year for interface wildfires and there were fewer West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes. The hurricane season was also uneventful – quiet and gentle in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea despite dire predictions and the emergence of Typhoon Haiyan on the other side of the world, which was one of the most intense tropical storms on Earth. For farm producers in the West, it was a bumper year for crops. And British Columbia experienced a near-perfect summer featuring the driest and sunniest July on record.

Incredible as it may seem it was another warm year in Canada − our 17th year in a row − although not as warm as it’s been in recent years. Every region was warmer or near normal, especially southern British Columbia where climatologists recorded the region’s fourth warmest December (2012) to November (2013) period in 66 years. On the other hand, the Prairies measured in at a mere 0.1°C warmer than normal in 2013. Not surprising since they experienced what seemed to be a never-ending seven-month winter. For those in the East, warm weather was also scarce with a summer that was more of a teaser than a pleaser. High temperatures made a brief appearance for one week in July and offered a brief encore in September in what was otherwise one of the shortest summers in years.

Canada’s top weather stories for 2013 are ranked from one to ten based on 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. Alberta’s Flood of Floods 
  2. Toronto’s Torrent
  3. Bumper Crops in the West, So-So for the Rest  
  4. To Flood or Not to Flood?
  5. Rebound in the Arctic Ocean and the Great Lakes
  6. Wicked Winter Weather Wallops the East
  7. Spring Flooding in Ontario’s Cottage Country  
  8. Prairie Winter Went on Forever
  9. Stormy Seas and Maritime Tragedy
  10. Sunny and Rainless in BC
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