Runner-up stories and regional highlights for 2003

Table of Content


Canada and the World Continues to Warm

The year 2003 was the 11th consecutive year with above-normal temperatures in Canada. With just a few days left, the year should rank in the top 10 of the warmest. It was especially warm in the Arctic, where temperatures averaged 2 degrees above normal (only 1998 was warmer). Across Canada, the summer was the fourth warmest since nation-wide records began in 1948 and the eleventh consecutive warm summer. Nationally, all four seasons had above-normal temperatures making an unprecedented stretch of 25 of the last 26 seasons in Canada warmer-than-normal.

Globally, 2003 was the 25th consecutive year with above-normal temperatures and the third warmest ever in the global temperature record, which goes back to 1856. December marked 221 consecutive months with warmer-than-normal temperatures globally. The last time temperatures around the world were cooler than the long-term average was in July 1985.

The average global temperature was 14.6°C - almost 0.5°C warmer than normal. Temperatures have been rising over the past 100 years, but this slow warming has increased markedly over the past quarter century. In almost 150 years, the ten hottest have all occurred since 1990. According to the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, the global average temperature has risen about three times faster since 1976, compared to that for the past 100 years. Now into the 21st century, global temperatures are more than 0.7°C above those at the beginning of the 20th century. Although yet another warm year is not itself evidence of accelerated climate change, the unprecedented increase in global temperatures in the past quarter century has added to the strong and compelling evidence of humankind's continued contribution to this phenomena.

Frigid Air Engulfs Canada in Early March

During the first week of March, a supercharged blast of Arctic air plunged temperatures across Canada to record lows. Not only was it one of the coldest spells in recent memory, it was one of the most extensive cold air masses. In the East, it was a classic flash freeze with temperatures falling from above freezing to -25°C in a few hours and turning puddles of melted snow into slick ice patches across central Canada. The frigid air from Hudson Bay dropped temperatures to -46°C in central Quebec. Strong winds with peak gusts reaching 130 km/h produced high wind chills everywhere in the province, ranging from -40 in the south to -54 in Schefferville. On March 2, the temperature in Kitchener, ON dipped to -31°C, destroying the day's former record by more than 10 degrees. Add in the wind chill and it felt like -42. In downtown Toronto, the temperature dipped to -23.1°C (the coldest day in March since 1872), prompting the city's first-ever March cold alert that stretched on for seven days. The cold snap caused a massive surge in power demand and nipped some evergreen trees and tender plants with the worst winter kill in 15 years.

Between March 7th and 9th, cold air swooped across the West, eclipsing dozens of previously-held low temperature records. At Edmonton, temperatures of -39°C and -42°C on successive nights made it colder than the North Pole and the top of Mount Everest - too cold for skating, skiing and, apparently, for horse racing. Veterinarians cancelled harness racing in the city for the first time ever on back-to-back days. Other cold records across the West included -35°C at Brandon, -38°C at Saskatoon, -39°C at Elbow, SK, -37°C at Cold Lake and -32°C at Calgary. The fierce cold snapped water mains, left dead batteries, drove the homeless into crowded shelters, created potholes overnight and stopped the maple sap run in the East.

Atlantic Canada

Record Snowy January for St. John's

For St. John's NL it was another snowy winter with nearly 550 cm of snow, 170% above the normal total of 322 cm, but much less than the record of 648.4 cm set two years ago. At times in January, it looked like the all-time record was in jeopardy. January 2003 tied 1960 for the snowiest January ever at the airport, when a whopping 162.3 cm fell on snow-weary residents. There were reports of shovels being thrown and of people standing their ground and not letting plows up the street. Conditions were especially trying during the third week of January when three blizzards piled a record total snowfall on the city. In total, some 94 cm of snow fell from the 18th to the 24th, at times falling as much as 5 cm an hour. There was so much snow that people began putting it back on sidewalks. Winds gusting to 146 km/h whipped snow that blinded drivers, grounded flights and closed roads.

Snow Day at School

A fierce storm struck the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador on February 26, stranding about 300 staff and students in St. Anthony. With winds whipping up to 90 km/h, causing drifting snow and continuous whiteouts, people became marooned at schools and the airport. It was reported that school staff didn't get much sleep, but the kids had a good time over their two-night stay.

Winter Weather for Canada Winter Games

Heavy snow, frigid temperatures and piercing winds played havoc with the sporting and cultural events at the Canada Winter Games in Bathurst-Campbellton, NB during the last week of February. Strong winds at 70 km/h delayed competition at times and also blew the ends off the event tent. However, the host region received the snowfall it needed in February. They also ended up with an unexpected mountain of ice along the shore at Beresford. Strong easterly winds and high tides pushed a mammoth ice floe onshore that stood 15.5 m in places and stretched for 2 km. It became a short-term tourist attraction of sorts, with thousands from all over the province coming to view this huge mass of soft blue ice.

Lightning Kills Young Soccer Player

On July 12, lightning struck and instantly killed a 14-year old female player from Maine during a soccer tournament in Fredericton. More than 20 others were injured or dazed and taken to hospital.

August Rains

A weather system entrenched over the Maritimes during the first half of August brought near-continuous bands of showers to the region. Halifax and Saint John received more rain in the first week than in an entire month, but less than 10 mm fell during the final three weeks. Farmers couldn't harvest their second crop of hay. Vegetable producers in the Annapolis Valley watched heads of lettuce swell and explode and cucumbers grow too big to sell. Some fields were so laden with water that tractors became bogged down. Excessive moisture disrupted telephone service and set off a rash of fire alarms from shorted sensors. Further, excessive mold indoors created health problems for those with respiratory problems or allergies. Tourism also took a hit at the peak of the summer holiday period.

Summer Fog in Saint John

For fog-prone Saint John, the third foggiest city in Canada, it was a summer reminiscent of the 1967 Canada Centennial when 89 of 92 summer days had an occurrence of fog. The fog's persistence was blamed on a continuous flow of warm southerly air cooled by the refrigerated waters of the Bay of Fundy. The fog interfered with many outdoor activities and disrupted flights. It was especially persistent in July and August with 39 days having at least one hour with fog, compared to a normal total of 28 days.

Autumn Heat Wave

Hurricane Juan aside, was there ever a more pleasant fall season in Atlantic Canada than in 2003? Probably not! Temperatures averaged between 1 and 3 degrees warmer than normal and rainfall was scanty, ranging from 20 to 80% of normal. Regionally, Atlantic Canada had its second warmest fall on record and the warmest since 1961. In Newfoundland and Labrador, October was the second consecutive month with record warmth. A number of schools sent students home early, and others held classes outside. Temperatures in Gander exceeded 27°C on five consecutive days from September 13 to 17.

Two Nor'easters In Two Weeks

In mid-December two early winter storms only a week apart clobbered New Brunswick with huge dumps of snow and blustery winds. The first nasty blast rolled into the Maritimes on December 7th and 8th, after punishing 12 American states and leaving some New England cities with a record snowfall. Southern New Brunswick, Northern Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island and Prince Edward Island were the hardest hit areas with places like Moncton getting up to 70 cm of snow. Winds reaching close to 100 km/h whipped the snow into blinding whiteouts and hefty drifts. The storm also walloped central Newfoundland with 25 to 45 cm of snow in blizzard conditions. The storm disrupted schools, shopping and travel, and created scattered power outages. The storm also led to five deaths in the province and closed the airport in Moncton for almost two full days. The storm's high rate of moist snowfall, duration and strong winds made it one of the worst winter blasts on record. Synoptically, two low pressure systems met over the warm waters of the Gulf of Maine and exploded into a powerful nor'easter.

A week later there was a repeat performance of a nor'easter. Sloppy, slushy roads were made more treacherous by powerful winds gusting over 100 km/h in places. Nova Scotia got a mixture of rain and snow, but in New Brunswick it was mostly snow again with the same areas getting belted again.


Winter Storms Three Months Apart

Around February 22, a major winter storm originating in the southern United States brought between 20 and 30 cm of snow to southern Quebec. In Montreal, snow fell along with ice pellets and freezing rain. It was the first big winter snowstorm since November. The greatest accumulations were in Gaspé and Bonaventure with 40 cm and Blanc-Sablon with over 50 cm. Complicating matters were brisk winds gusting to 60 km/h and bitterly cold temperatures, which limited the effectiveness of snow-clearing efforts. The weekend storm forced some roads to close and delayed flights, but there was much less disruption than that from a weekday storm.

And Now for Something Hot

By the final week of June, Quebec was in the throes of a lengthy and torrid heat wave. Both Montreal and Quebec City set some new daily records for high temperatures with some pretty oppressive humidity. At Bagotville, the maximum temperature exceeded 30°C for seven consecutive days - a record for duration at that weather station. At La Tuque, the temperature soared to 36.5°C on June 26, the hottest temperature of the summer in Quebec. The next day in Gaspé, the mercury climbed above 36°C breaking the city's highest temperature on record. A week later, Kuujjuarapik recorded three days in a row with temperatures above 30°C. It was only the second time since the weather station's 1925 opening that temperatures exceeded 30°C for a stretch of three consecutive days.

Quebec Tornadoes

The province witnessed 10 tornadoes this year (normal is 6) with two measuring a strong intensity. On June 11, the first tornado of the year occurred at Laval. The F1 level tornado generated wind speeds estimated at 150 km/h. On July 27, another F1 tornado with winds between 120 and 150 km/h struck St-Narcisse de Rimouski.

Flash Flood in Tingwick and Environs

On August 4, a stationary weather system over the Great Lakes triggered a series of severe thunderstorms in south-central Quebec that caused torrential rains at the foot of the Appalachians. The storms soaked the hilly farmland with 160 mm of rain in just five hours, although the greatest amounts fell in a short 30-minute period. Tingwick was the hardest hit, losing more than half of its bridges, several culverts and countless trees. In Charlevoix at Baie-St. Paul, the storm dumped 167 mm of rain triggering landslides the next day. Ankle-deep streams became raging torrents with a 2-m high surge. About an hour after the rains started, floodwaters reached to second-floor windows. The flash flood took out sections of roads and carried away dozens of cabins, trailers and houses. Some homes simply vanished; many more filled up with mud and water. Three to five hundred people fled in the dark; some having to be rescued by helicopter or boat. The day after the storm some residents spent all day looking for their homes. Estimates put uninsured losses at well in excess of $10 million.


Colorado Low Hammers Southern Ontario

On February 4, Southern Ontario was hit by a winter storm out of the American Rockies, packing blustery winds and a congealed mixture of ice pellets, snow, freezing rain and rain. The nasty storm caused hundreds of traffic accidents and several power outages in the south. In the London area, all highways and roads in surrounding counties were closed when winds gusting as high as 90 km/h and blowing snow cut visibility to zero in open areas. The Ontario Provincial Police lost six cruisers to crashes in blinding whiteouts.

More February Storms

On February 22, a major winter storm dumped 15 to 30 cm of snow over a large band extending from Windsor to Ottawa. Some areas reported drifts 70 cm deep. Significant freezing rain and ice pellets with ice accretions 2 to 5 cm fell in the Niagara Region and along Lake Ontario's north shore. The Ontario Provincial Police reported some 800 accidents on highways around Toronto, with one fatality, although there were at least three deaths from snow shoveling. In Kingston, hundreds of residents from Wolfe Island lost power when 50 ice-coated hydro poles snapped in the strong winds.

Crash-Up Derby on Highway 400

Police blamed thick morning fog, the result of warm temperatures and rapidly-melting snow, for a series of pileups on Ontario's Highway 400 near Barrie on March 17. The smash-up stretched over 20 km and involved more than 200 vehicles. Two dozen people were injured.

April - The Cruelest Month for Weather

On April 3 to 4, a rare mid-spring ice storm struck southern Ontario. The storm was the most damaging of the winter because of its duration and the amount of ice accumulation. Adding to the chaos, most private snow-clearing contracts had expired April 1. The Ontario Provincial Police fielded 900 calls from Toronto-area highways alone. Pearson Airport became a parking lot of grounded planes with ice-caked wings. Ground crews used up a month's supply of glycol de-icer in just 24 hours. That same week, high winds blew in another 10 cm of snow into parts of southern Ontario. With all the blowing and drifting snow, and all the ice left over from the earlier blast, emergency crews were swamped responding to accidents. In London, alone, 250 accidents were reported. Just as winter seemed permanent, however, slush turned to sweat. On April 24, the temperature soared to 28°C at Windsor. In Toronto, the mercury hit 27.1°C, making it the second highest temperature ever so early in the year.

Finally, A Heat Wave

On the first day of summer, southern Ontario began its first and only true heat wave of the year. Moosonee had already had five days above 30°C, including 35°C on June 22, which was a record high for June. By then, Toronto hadn't any days above 30°C! On June 22, Ontario issued its first smog advisory - the latest ever first advisory. On June 25, the mercury rose to a sizzling 35°C and a sticky 42 on the humidex scale.

The Day the Lights Went Out

A report on the huge blackout that plunged 50 million people across the Eastern United States and Ontario into darkness for 24 hours or more on August 14 leveled blame squarely on the management of an Ohio power company and the weather. A combination of hot weather that expanded the power lines (causing them to sag) and low winds that prevented lines from cooling off was the tag to the weather. The additional sagging caused the looping lines to touch untrimmed tree branches, shutting down transmission lines across the East.

Kenora's Gullywasher

On September 17, meteorologists were closely watching the track of Hurricane Isabel near the coast of North Carolina and another weather system moving toward the Great Lakes from the west. To some, the pattern was reminiscent of Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Their concern was that the frontal system might energize or slow the hurricane in Ontario, raising the potential for a huge disaster. As it happened, Hurricane Hazel II never surfaced. However, the non-tropical system still dumped a huge amount of rain in the Lake of the Woods area - some 78.8 mm in three hours - and 91.6 mm over one day in Kenora.

Great Waterspout Outbreak of 2003

A meteorological oddity of sorts! Waterspouts are tornadoes over water. According to Environment Canada meteorologist Wade Szilagyi, a record waterspout outbreak occurred in late September-early October over the Great Lakes. It was the largest outbreak that has ever been recorded - an unbelievable 66+ waterspouts. The outbreak was attributed to a cold air mass, and associated major upper trough, which remained entrenched over the Great Lakes for a period of a week. Above-normal lake temperatures also contributed to this unusual event.

Witches of November Storm

A fierce windstorm on November 12 and13 blew across most of the province felling trees and cutting power to 100,000 customers. The Georgian Bay-Muskoka area was the hardest hit because lake snow squalls produced zero visibility in whiteouts and made restoring service difficult. In the London area, the storm kept thousands of children out of school, uprooted trees and peeled the roofs off of several structures. Precipitation from the storm helped to make the fall season in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region the second wettest on record, some 34% more precipitation than normal. That was good news for still low Great Lakes water levels but bad news for farmers and their water-logged crops.

The Prairies

Record January Thaw

Unseasonably mild air spread across the Prairies during the first week of January. On the 7th, Calgary's temperature was a stunning 17.6°C - the hottest January day in the city's history. Maple Creek, SK was even warmer at 18.3°, warm enough for people to hit a few golf balls and not much cooler than Phoenix, Arizona's 23°C. In Manitoba, the mercury soared to 14.5°C at McCreary and 18 of 20 weather stations in the province broke records. While golf courses in the west considered re-opening, snow resorts took a beating because people just weren't in the mood for skiing or snowboarding.

Grimshaw Microburst

A severe storm, first thought to be a tornado but later confirmed as a smaller but just as fierce microburst, destroyed parts of Grimshaw, AB on June 30. The tiny but mighty storm ripped up trees, moved a large building and destroyed the town's arena. Power lines were downed all over town and every building on Main Street had most of its windows blown out causing officials to declare a state of emergency. Environment Canada said winds in the nearby town of Peace River reached 90 km/h. Amazingly, there were no serious injuries; however, the same storm system struck west of Banff in Kootenay National Park felling some spruce trees and killing two little girls hiking in the mountains with their parents.

Gretna Tornado

Powerful thunderstorms with hail and heavy rain blew through Winnipeg on July 13 and 14, knocking out power to thousands of people and prompting forecasters to issue tornado warnings across southern Manitoba. On July 14, a medium-strength tornado struck Gretna, MB leveling fields of crops, blowing down equipment sheds and garages, and knocking down hydro poles. A dozen trees, some close to a metre in diameter, were uprooted by the sheer power of the twister. The storm also brought a massive hailstorm with softball-size hailstones farther north near Altona. The 10-minute hailer pummeled the town and surrounding area, causing millions of dollars in damage to crops, buildings and vehicles.

Narrow Hills Tornado

On July 2, an F2 level tornado with winds above 180 km/h ripped through Narrow Hills Provincial Park northeast of Prince Albert, SK. It was a massive twister - 1.4 km in width with a path 26.5 km long - that mowed down 11 square kilometres of forest and stripped pavement from highways. The twister also rolled a semi and destroyed a logging camp.

Record Hot Days in August

An early August hot spell rewrote the record books across the Eastern Prairies. Winnipeg had 10 broiler days when the temperature exceeded 30°C, including seven in a row. Regina had 11 hot days in a row; and Val Marie, near the Canadian-USA border, endured 16 consecutive days above 30°C. Several towns reported extreme highs above 40°C. At Dauphin's first summer bonspiel, curlers wore shorts and tank tops. Regina reported a larger number of water main breaks than usual due to drying and shifting soil. The extreme heat further aggravated drought conditions.

Summer Snowstorm in Calgary

On September 16, Calgarians woke up to a summer snowstorm with about 3 cm of wet snow on the ground and temperatures 17 degrees cooler than normal. To the west, Jasper and Banff got the heaviest dumps of snow - up to 25 cm of the cold, wet stuff. The late summer snowfall helped to cool hot spots in the still smouldering Lost Creek fire in the Crowsnest Pass.

Nippy Outdoor Hockey

Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium was the scene of the largest professional hockey game ever played outdoors witnessed by 57,167 fans. The game was held in trying conditions, with temperatures at game time sitting around -16°C. It later dropped to -20°C at rink-side, some 12 degrees colder than normal. With a moderate breeze, wind chills dipped to -28°C. Amazingly, most of the huge crowd stuck around in the brutal cold for two games. The only complaint from players was that the cold ice was too chippy or brittle. Fans complained that their beer froze. Incredibly, only one person suffered mild hypothermia while attending the game - and it wasn't the male streaker!

British Columbia

Early January Blow

In early January, ferocious winds gusting to 150 km/h across Vancouver Island knocked out power, keeping 30,000 BC Hydro customers from Victoria to Nanaimo in the dark for hours. Further, the highest tide ever was recorded in Victoria Harbour: 3.77 m, compared to the previous record of 3.71 m in 1969. On the Mainland, a freak gust of wind knocked over two 5-storey-high coal loaders in Delta. One loader was blown off the dock and into the water; the other crashed onto a ship. The cost of repairs to the cranes alone was at least $10 million. The high winds also knocked over a stack of large metal shipping containers and uprooted trees.

Hot Beginning to Summer

In early June, temperature records tumbled across Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and in the BC Interior. In Victoria, the temperature on June 6 peaked at 33.5°C, breaking the all-time high for June. Many other stations on Vancouver Island broke records for June 6 by wide margins - Port Alberni was the Island's high at 34.7°C, smashing the old mark by nearly 9 degrees.

Powerful October Wind Storm

On October 28, fierce winds swept through parts of southern and central British Columbia uprooting trees and causing widespread power outages. Some 108,000 BC Hydro customers lost power. At Prince George, winds peaked above 75 km/h, prompting authorities to close schools. Sustained winds reached 81 km/h at Vancouver Airport, breaking the previous record for October. Rush-hour traffic on the Lower Mainland was slowed to a crawl because of darkened traffic lights and disrupted SkyTrain service. On downtown sidewalks, pedestrians walking into the winds had to dodge flying debris and branches.

The North

El Nino Warmth Not Good for Roads and Mushers

In early January, Northern residents enjoyed a mid-winter weather break with temperatures ranging from -1°C in Yellowknife to an incredible 7°C in Fort Smith. The unusual warmth, however, wasn't welcomed by all. The mild El Nino weather put winter road and ice bridge construction behind schedule by a few weeks and created problems for mining and oil and gas industries, which rely on the frozen roadways to transport yearly supplies.

A warmer winter also made it difficult for those competing in various outdoor competitions in the North. Balmy temperatures forced the 3,200 km Tesoro Iron Dog, the world's longest snowmobile race, to cancel its 20th annual race. Shorter sled dog races used to qualify for the Iditarod were also called off. And, unseasonable warm temperatures presented a challenge to those in the grueling Yukon Quest sled dog race. This year, teams had to contend with portions of the Yukon River that had not frozen over and a race course that had to be shortened.

March Blizzards

Up until 2003, a blizzard hadn't been recorded at Norman Wells, NT in over 20 years. This year the town had two: one on March 5 and another on March 11. The latter storm stranded nine Northern residents on the Tuktoyaktuk ice road in the Mackenzie Delta. Stinging winds of 80 km/h in heavy snow trapped the group traveling in three snowmobiles. Seventeen hours later, family and friends contacted the RCMP and then drove into the still-raging storm to look for the lost travelers. The rescue party found the lost souls and transported them to a nearby camp to recover, leaving their stranded vehicles to be recovered two days later when the storm abated. In early March, a blizzard near Rankin Inlet trapped two soldiers and two Canadian Rangers. The four men became separated from a group of twenty-two. Rangers from Baker Lake found the lost men the next day.

Low Wind Chill

The temperature at Cambridge Bay on February 26 was -46°C with a 33 km/h wind, making for a wind chill of -67. While not a Canadian record, it is one of the lowest wind chill readings ever.

Russian Wildfires Obscure Skies over North America

Smoke from massive Russian forest fires in the Lake Baikal region, just north of its border with Mongolia, drifted over Alaska and northwestern Canada in mid-May. Strong westerly winds pushed the huge smoke plume, which was about the size of Ontario and Quebec combined. The smoke and haze were not noticeable on the ground because it was confined at a high altitude and the particles were so small, but the plume made for some spectacular sunrises.

Forest Fires in the Northwest

A lightning strike started a forest fire on July 21, near Norman Wells. Four water bombers fought the fire, which was being stoked by gusting winds and hot temperatures. Three days later, with wildfires smouldering just 12 km from town, Norman Wells declared a state of emergency and officials started evacuating residents. The elderly, young and those with respiratory problems were flown to Inuvik. Others fled to nearby communities by boat.

Record Early Winter Snowfall in Yukon

On November 22, a Pacific disturbance moved through central and southern Yukon dumping a record amount of snow. One weather station on the Klondike Highway picked up 22 cm of snow. Mayo Airport reported 21 cm of snow - the greatest daily November snowfall since records began in 1926 and the fourth snowiest day ever.

2003 - One of the Warmest Ever in Nunavut

The year was especially warm in Nunavut where temperatures averaged nearly 2 degrees warmer than normal. In 56 years of records, only 1998 was warmer. Among the year's temperature highlights in the Arctic: fall temperatures averaged 2.8 degrees warmer than normal, likely the second warmest on record; the summer over Baffin Island and Ellesmere was 1.5 degrees warmer, making it the third warmest summer behind 1998 and 1991; and winter 2002-3 was almost 3 degrees warmer than normal, making it the second warmest winter on record. On a precipitation note, the North had their wettest winter ever with double the usual snowfall.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Intensity Scale
CategorySustained Wind Speed (km/h)Storm Surge (metres)
1 [minimal]118 - 1531.0 - 1.7
2 [moderate]154 - 1771.8 - 2.6
3 [extensive]178 - 2102.7 - 3.8
4 [extreme]211 - 2493.9 - 5.6
5 [catastrophic]250 -> 5.5
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