Top ten weather stories for 2007: story five

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5. Oh So Dry in Southern Ontario

For the majority of city dwellers in southern Ontario, it was a summer to remember with record warmth, perfect weekends and little weather. The number of hot days above 30°C ranged between 20 and 30 -- two to three times the normal. On the 31 weekend days and holiday Mondays from June 1 to Labour Day, Toronto had only five wet ones (often just a sprinkle). Most residents in the south didn't want summer to end. It was so pleasantly warm for so long that they either felt guilty or concerned that somehow they were soon going to pay for the excess of delightful weather.

What was good for campers and beach bums, though, was bad for farmers and gardeners. Although not a drought by Prairie standards, southern Ontario's drier weather could only be rivaled by conditions not seen in the region since the 1930s. You didn't need to be a climatologist to know record dryness was underway. Burnt grass, cracked soil, curled up leaves, shriveled corn cobs, and dying trees were the giveaways. Even dandelions were dying. Grass fires sparked by dry conditions prompted many local fire departments to slap bans on open fires. Water alerts were issued early and often. Scanty precipitation ravaged thousands of trees. Many died, while others just hung on or were badly stressed making them vulnerable to pests and disease. Arborists warned the disaster would be better revealed over the next two years.

Blessed with near-perfect spring weather, Ontario farmers planted a record corn crop estimated at 880,000 ha. The results were disappointing but yields varied as much as the rainfall, ranging between 40 and 550 bushels per hectare just a few concession roads over. On the other hand, fruit and grape growers in Niagara were delighted by the warmth, abundant sunshine and disease-free conditions. They couldn't recall a year with better fruit flavour.

The prolonged drought prevailed across a broad swath of Ontario from Chatham north to Peterborough. No area showed the wear-and-tear of drought more than Toronto. Toronto Pearson International Airport experienced its driest summer in nearly 50 years and a string of 95 consecutive days without a significant rainfall (above 12 mm) in the middle of summer. Moreover, it was a 10-month drought. Between January 1 and October 31, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) experienced its second driest on record. Toronto received only 413.2 mm of precipitation, which is about two-thirds of normal levels. To the north in York Region, it was even drier. Aurora's rainfall totals from May to September amounted to a paltry 136 mm (compared to 215 mm in Toronto) and only 1/3 of the total rainfall in 2006. In Hamilton, between May and August inclusive, 141 mm of rain fell, which is only 37 per cent of the normal accumulation. It was the lowest rainfall total since record-keeping began in 1959, smashing the record set in 1966. In the country-side of Norfolk County, it was even drier with only 35 per cent of normal amounts from May to July inclusive -- the worst since 1936 when heat baked fruit on trees. It was so dry at times that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources asked anglers not to fish in some creeks, because water levels were so low it stressed fish. And so dry that the Delhi Horticultural Society had to cancel its flower show because the blooms had wilted.

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