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Canada's top ten weather stories of 2013

7. Wicked Winter Weather Wallops the East

Figure 6a. Map of Canada. See large map for details.

At the end of the first week of February, a fast-moving weather disturbance from Alberta and a moist low from Texas began influencing weather across eastern North America when the two systems morphed into the biggest blast of winter weather in years. The Alberta clipper featured cold air from the Arctic while the Texas low packed tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Together the hybrid storm intensified into a blizzard of historic proportions with as much as 60 cm of snow falling along the Atlantic coast from New York City to Halifax and beyond. Millions of residents were affected on both sides of the border. For many in southern and eastern Ontario and southern Quebec, it was a one-day event that packed a punch with strong gusty northwesterly winds, and tons of blowing and drifting snow. At its worst, the storm dumped between 2 to 4 cm of snow every hour, wreaking havoc on roads, rail lines and runways. Snowfall amounts ranged between 25 and 35 cm, with the highest totals at St. Catharines (44 cm), Peterborough (41 cm), and on elevated terrain near the Great Lakes (35 cm). The storm left tragedy in its wake as four people in Ontario died amid treacherous roads and blinding blizzards. It also grounded 800 flights, stranded motor traffic, and shut down schools and universities, especially in the Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara area.

A highway covered in snow slows traffic.

In Toronto alone, the storm’s clean-up costs exceeded $4 million. Because the storm skirted the southern reaches of Quebec near the Canadian-American border, the province emerged from the wintry lashing comparatively unscathed. Snowfall totals ranged from 10 to 20 cm with Hemmingford recording up to 30 cm. Following the storm, wind chills dipped close to -30 in blowing snow. Road conditions deteriorated rapidly on February 8 and hundreds of motorists in Quebec were involved in collisions or ended up in a ditch. On a more positive note, the snowfall was a boon to Ontario and Quebec ski resorts.

People being blown by snow gusts.

Over Atlantic Canada, the storm got a second wind and turned into a powerful nor’easter energized by cold air to the north, warm air to the south and an infusion of energy from warm Gulf Stream waters. The worst of the storm was felt south of the border with as much as a metre of snowfall and hurricane-force winds cutting power to hundreds of thousands and leading to 18 deaths in New York and New England. Taking stock of the carnage, Maritimers prepared for the assault from the winter behemoth that brought the heaviest snowfall in years to Atlantic Canada on February 8 and 9. At one time on the weekend, it was snowing across the entire Maritimes. Nasty conditions shut down the region and every mode of transportation. Nova Scotia got the worst winds, upward of 140 km/h., while east of Yarmouth at Woods Harbour and Cape Sable Island extreme gusts peaked at 164 km/h. A storm surge at Shelburne, Nova Scotia was the biggest since a major storm nearly 40 years ago. The storm blew the roof off mobile homes and damaged the fronts of some retail stores. Many trees were toppled and power outages left thousands throughout the Maritimes in the dark. Snowfall amounts were highly variable, measuring as much as 66 cm at Debert and 50 cm in Greenwood with drifts metres deep, while Halifax received 26 cm and Sydney 31cm. The storm surge at high tide flooded roads, damaged docks and shore buildings, and lifted boats onto wharves on Cape Sable Island. The majority of flights at Halifax were cancelled and nearly all Marine Atlantic ferries stayed tethered to shore over the weekend. In places, chunks of floating ice and large rocks were pushed or tossed onshore landing on the front steps of homes and shops. Snowplows were used to clear highways of rocks and gravel.The epic storm continued its journey eastward, bringing blustery winds and snow to Newfoundland and Labrador. By February 10, between 15 and 40 cm of snow fell amidst wind gusts of more than 100 km/h that pummelled the province. Even after crossing the Atlantic, the dying stormstill had the power to dump 15 cm of snow on Ireland and the United Kingdom between February 15 and 18, inflicting major travel disruptions and flooding.

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