Top ten weather stories for 2008: story three

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3. A Never-Ending Winter

Map of Canada with affected regions highlighted

Ontario and Quebec endured one of the longest and snowiest winters in years. At times, even snow enthusiasts had had enough and were desperate for spring. Every winter sees snow on the ground for weeks at a time, but not every winter has snow falling almost every day. Winter 2007-2008 was defined by the amount of snow and the record number of snow events. The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin registered its third-wettest winter in 61 years, with most of the precipitation falling as the white stuff. Among locations recording above 500 cm of snow were: Mont Ste-Anne, 676 cm; Quebec City, 558 cm (record); Muskoka, 558 cm; Gander, 534 cm; Deer Lake, 534 cm; and Bathurst, 510 cm (record). Other locations with new seasonal snowfall records were: St. Leonard (492 cm); Trois-Rivières (457.6 cm); Montréal-Mirabel International Airport (375.6 cm); Trenton (270.8 cm); Kitchener-Waterloo (251.9 cm); and Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport (250.8 cm).

Millions living in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto were denied records by a mere dusting or two. Safe to say, near the end of winter the majority of snow-weary citizens began quietly cheering for one or two more snowfalls just to be able to lay claim to a new standard. Apparently, securing a weather record would justify endless complaining about the winter from hell! But Nature had the last laugh. Toronto's snow total was 194 cm, just 13 cm shy of the record set 70 years ago. In a dramatic turnaround, Toronto's third-snowiest winter followed its second lowest the winter before of just 60 cm. Sadly, all that snow and nothing to brag about..

The most remarkable amount of snow was in Ottawa, where an excess of 432 cm fell just 12 cm short of the venerable snow record of 444.6 cm in 1970-1971 – an event often regarded as a 1,000-year occurrence. Ottawans did not see bare ground for 143 consecutive days, from November 21 to April 11. This was the longest stretch on record and four days longer than the string of 139 snow cover days in 1970-1971. Less than a week before the first day of spring, snow on the ground in the nation's capital was at the season's deepest – 87 cm. During one particularly brutal four-day stretch in March, the city was pummelled with 73.2 cm. And while the snowiest month in history occurred in 1970-1971 (159.5 cm in February), Ottawa did claim its second- and third-snowiest months ever this winter (121.0 cm in December and 113.4 in March). Montreal's 371.4 cm also came close to breaking its 1970-1971 record of 383.3 cm and – like Ottawa – could claim December and March as its second- and third-snowiest months (respectively) on record.

All that white stuff made it an expensive year for snow removal. Snow dumps were full and city and provincial highway departments started rationing salt and sand supplies in February. Retailers sold out of snow shovels and salt early in the season. And with so much snow shovelling and pushing the "good old-fashioned" way, a 60 per cent increase in the number of musculo-skeletal injuries was noted. With thousands of impulsive Canadians looking for a break in the sun and sand, travel agents reported the busiest season in decades. Even deer and moose needed a vacation from foraging through the deep snowpack. Deer sightings in backyards and at intersections were way up, making them more vulnerable to predators.

Winter's relentless snow also led to dozens of roof collapses. The roof of a small warehouse in Morin Heights, about 85 km north of Montreal, collapsed under the added weight of accumulated ice and snow, killing three women. In Shawinigan, a fallen roof smothered a homeowner to death under several layers of snow just seconds after he directed the rest of his family outside to safety. Across Quebec and eastern Ontario, large span structures from arenas and warehouses to shopping centres were closed or evacuated by panicked officials. Hundreds of schools in and around Montreal were ordered closed by authorities to give workers a chance to clear heavy, dense snow from roofs. Frequent reports were received of ominous cracking sounds around buildings and of doors and windows no longer fitting frames. Several barns also collapsed, killing animals.

The length and toughness of winter led to reports of depression and anxiety among many storm-frayed residents. Finding a parking space was often a nightmare. As neighbours ran out of space to toss snow, territorial disputes erupted. An inordinate number of angry outbreaks led to skirmishes, with several charges being laid for those brandishing guns or warring with snowblowers.

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