Canada's top ten weather stories of 2004

Canadians had plenty to "weather" in 2004 as Mother Nature either froze, buried, soaked, blew or frightened us at various times throughout the year. We endured flash floods, weather bombs, humongous snowfalls and killer frost. And we once again proved our mettle as a winter people by beating back brutal cold and three record snowfalls. So what weather caught us off guard in 2004? A couple of thunderstorms of the "once in 200 years" variety that showed us just how vulnerable we are to the growing incidences of wild weather extremes.

Edmonton played host to this year's number one weather story with a torrential rain and hail deluge that caused horrendous flooding. A few days later, elements of that same storm triggered a flash flood in Peterborough, Ontario. Both storms were estimated to be 200-year events with combined property damage costs exceeding $300 million. Unbelievably, no one died in the floods.

Other top weather stories included two record snowfalls in Nova Scotia - one that was a world's record of sorts; a summer in disguise over most of Canada; a nation-wide January cold snap with a -60 wind chill; a record May snowfall on the Prairies that set the stage for a colder than ever spring/summer; and costly wildfires in British Columbia and Yukon sparked by frequent dry lightning and record warm and dry weather. Out on the farm, it was yet another year of weather woe including a devastating billion-dollar frost.

The news wasn't all bad though! In 2004, we were spared deadly tornadoes, devastating hurricanes, drought and plagues. Our air was cleaner, there were no summer blackouts and we experienced less weather-related personal injuries and fatalities. Best of all, there were fewer mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. And many might not believe this, but it was another warm year for Canada (although not as warm as it has been over the past seven years).

From a regional perspective, it seems that one area of the country always gets more than its share of bad weather luck through the year. In the recent past, Alberta and Quebec have suffered that misfortune but now it looks like Nova Scotia's turn. The last two years have been especially punishing and painful for that province with a costly record rainstorm, Hurricane Juan, White Juan and the earliest winter blast ever.

As a country, the fallout from weather extremes appears to be having a much greater impact on us from both a societal and environmental point of view. Scientists can't say yet that the increased weather severity can be directly linked to a warmer world, but it would certainly be consistent with our expectations of climate change. That aside, even pre-climate change weather extremes would be catastrophic for modern societies because of our larger communities with more people, buildings and other targets for destruction. Today, more than 80% of Canadians live in cities with a population of over 10,000 people. To accommodate this growth, we have paved over land and built on wetlands creating impervious surfaces unable to absorb even ordinary rainfalls. With or without climate change, we are becoming more vulnerable to extreme weather. This past year provided clear examples in Canada that our urban infrastructure can't stand up to it. Our communities must become more resilient, not only for what lies ahead but for the climate we've already got.

Canada's Top Weather Stories for 2004 are rated from one to ten by considering factors such as the degree to which Canada and Canadians were impacted, the extent of the area affected, economic effects and longevity as a top news story:

Top ten weather stories for 2004

  1. Storm Drowns and Pounds Edmonton
  2. White Juan Buries Halifax
  3. Summer's Cold Shoulder
  4. Peterborough's Flood of Two Centuries
  5. BC and Yukon - Warm, Dry and on Fire
  6. January's Nation-wide Deep Freeze
  7. A Billion Dollar Frost
  8. Weather Picks on Nova Scotia Again
  9. Snow Dump Smothers Prairie Spring
  10. Weather Cures the West Nile Virus

Runner-up stories for 2004

Regional highlights


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