Top ten weather stories for 2009: story ten

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10. Enduring Prairie Cold Ends Dramatically

Map of Canada highlighting the Prairies that experienced a long and cold winter

Photo of a wheat field. Photo: Photolux Commercial Studio © Environment Canada, 2002

Across the Prairies, winter started out cold and stayed that way with a season that seemed to go on for nine months. Westerners know about cold winter and are largely prepared for it, but when winter carries on through the longest and coldest spring in memory and is followed by a summer that refused to warm up, even the hardiest westerners begin to feel victimized by the weather. Desperate residents said they forgot what a warm day feels like and were looking forward to their first mosquito – a sure sign of warmth.

From December to August inclusive, the Prairies tied for the coldest nine months in 27 years. Every city in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and central and northern Alberta endured nine straight months with below normal temperatures. In Winnipeg, for example, there had never been ten consecutive months below normal in a century – possibly the longest stretch since the 1880s.

The following is just a sampling of the long, miserable cold across the West:

  • On March 11, the temperature in Regina dipped to -35.9°C. Not the coldest moment of the winter, but no date in mid-March has ever been colder in the Queen City in 127 years of records.
  • Ten days before spring, Edmonton recorded its coldest temperature of the winter at -42.7°C.
  • On May 15, the ground near North Battleford, Saskatchewan was still frozen rock solid five centimetres below the surface.
  • The Victoria long weekend in May looked more like Christmas morning for most of western Canada. At Grand Beach in Manitoba – a popular getaway for Winnipeg residents – the crowded beach of years past was instead populated by a few stragglers throwing snowballs. In Edmonton, snow fell on the May holiday for the first time in 15 years. In southeastern Saskatchewan, graders plowed area roads and power outages were reported after heavy snow downed power lines.
  • June 6 brought nearly four centimetres of snow to Calgary – the first time in 30 years a measurable amount of snow fell there in June. To the east in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, more than 38 cm of snow covered the ground.
  • During the second week of July, there was frost in parts of western Saskatchewan.

Remarkably, the “mini ice age” ended abruptly and dramatically in September. Golfers scrambled to book tee times and farmers laboured 18-hour days to bring in the harvest before the first frost and season's snowfall. In the waning days of summer, Edmonton saw a record-burning high of 32.2°C. Ten other weather records fell in Alberta on September 16, including two that had been held for more than a century. The next day, nine Saskatchewan centres broke record-high temperatures in the September heat wave. Rosetown was the hottest place in Canada with temperatures that soared to 37°C – likely the warmest temperature in Canadian history ever so late in the season! September was literally head and shoulders above the previous warmest, and something never seen before, it was the warmest month of the year. In places like Kindersley and North Battleford, there were more days above 30°C in September than in all of June, July and August. In fact, the seven warmest days in 2009 occurred in September.

On the first full day of fall, the temperature in Edmonton hit 34°C – its hottest day in 2009 and fewer than two degrees from the hottest day ever at the International Airport. At Calgary, the afternoon high peaked at 33.2°C, making it the hottest fall day on record (records go back to 1881) as well as the hottest day in 2009. Not to be outdone, Winnipeg enjoyed the warmest September on record – a full degree warmer than the previous record with observations back to 1872. Adding to the delight, there were only three wet days with a total precipitation of 22.5 mm or 43 per cent of normal. What a dramatic turnaround from one of the coldest summers in 100 years to the warmest September ever. And not just in Winnipeg! Throughout Manitoba, nearly every community established a new record for the warmest September on record. How bizarre was it?  They were still doing mosquito fogging in Winnipeg on September 7, which is the latest recorded date this typically early-summer ritual has been done.

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