Top ten weather stories for 2010: story six

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6. Saskatchewan’s Summer of Storms

A map of Canada indicating that the province of Saskatchewan received a significant number of summer storms.

From microbursts, hailers, twisters and gully washers to funnel clouds and plough winds, Saskatchewan experienced almost everything nature could possibly throw at it this summer. Residents seemed to be in a constant state of clean-up and worry about what would come next. What is typically the driest province was never wetter. Property and auto insurance claims from the summer’s incessant wild weather reached well over $100 million – the highest on record. And Saskatchewan Emergency Services estimated that the government-run Provincial Disaster Assistance Program probably dealt with as many claims this year as it did in its first 30 years of existence. To top it off, private insurers reported their worst year ever. Crop hail claims in Saskatchewan exceeded $100 million – four times the payouts in 2009. As Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said, “The one thing the province cannot control is the weather.” What stood out and made clean-up and emergency services so challenging was that extreme weather occurred from one side of the province to the other, with more than 175 Saskatchewan communities declaring states of emergency.

Raymore Saskatchewan Tornado damage on July 2, 2010.  First confirmed F3 (or stronger) tornado to hit Saskatchewan since 1996. Bill McMurtry © Environment Canada 2010.

Between June 14 and 18, a slow-moving weather system dumped in excess of 100 mm of rain over southwestern Saskatchean and Alberta. Maple Creek recorded in excess of 100 mm; even more occurred at Cypress Hills Park. Torrents of water rushed down the streets of Maple Creek washing piles of debris and thick muck into homes, reaching levels as high as a kitchen counter. The torrential rains washed out both westbound lanes and one east bound lane of the Trans-Canada Highway just west of town. The highway opened to four lanes more than five months later after a $10 million repair.  Residents said river levels were the highest they’d seen in 50 years. Yorkton residents celebrated Canada Day holding back floodwaters caused by a deluge of 125 mm, with most of it falling in a violent thunderstorm that lasted 45 minutes. Within minutes, water was running across five blocks of homes and apartments in the low-lying city core. The flood turned streets into canals and yards into lakes. In many homes, water filled basements to the rafters and started flowing upstairs. About 20 per cent of the dwellings in Yorkton suffered some water damage in what was one of the worst floods in the city’s history. Insurance claims in the area topped $14 million.  The next day, active weather developed south of Swift Current and tracked northeastward spawning a tornado on the Kawacatoose First Nation reserve near Raymore. The tornado featured golf-ball-sized hail, heavy rains and winds over 250 km/h that obliterated five homes and damaged fifteen others on the reserve, along with five nearby farms. The tornado was ranked a F3 (less than five per cent of all tornadoes are that strong or stronger). Remarkably, no one was seriously hurt, but three months later families were still living in temporary trailers waiting re-location.

North of the tornado, fierce plough winds and heavy rains pelted Prince Albert late in the day. Winds damaged several homes and businesses and ripped the roof off a high school. In Saskatoon, the ground was already soaked by a rainstorm three days earlier that had dumped 85 mm in less than three hours, causing extensive flooding in what the mayor called “one of those one-in-100-year floods.” Unfortunately, another storm on July 2 also reached “century-storm” status by dumping 80 mm of rain on the city that flooded basements and knocked down trees and power lines. On July 22, yet another vicious rain and hail storm struck, this time in the Battlefords. A month’s worth of rain in a day and nickel-sized chunks of hail damaged up to 200 homes.  The ensuing flood backed up the town’s sewer system with water rising to the door handles of vehicles. On August 8, a major hail storm along a line from Kindersley to west of Saskatoon resulted in the highest number of damage claims in the province this year. Two days later, heavy intense rains, much of it in less than four hours, fell on Hudson Bay – a community about 325 km northeast of Saskatoon – prompting yet another state of emergency and more provincial disaster assistance. September brought more of the same with heavy rains falling on much of Saskatchewan over the course of the month, including a one-day deluge in Regina on September 6 that left some motorists stranded on the tops of their vehicles submerged in underpasses.

There is no simple explanation for the stormy season. Severe storms were simply more frequent and moved more slowly than usual. And while there have been worse years for hail, flooding and tornadoes in Saskatchewan, the combined assault of severe weather on the province made it hard to imagine a more crippling, destructive and expensive year.

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