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Canada's Top Ten Weather Stories for 2011

Prairie Provinces - Regional Highlights

Super-Sized Snows in Alberta

A significant amount of snow fell across Alberta in January, with most of it coming in a single province-wide storm that lasted from January 7 to 10. The storm dropped up to 30 cm of snow in Edmonton – one of the biggest January snowfalls in 20 years. Fierce winds piled the snow into monstrous drifts, leaving commuters with blocked roads, long transit delays, clogged parking lots and some of the biggest windrows ever. East of Calgary, high winds and drifting snow in zero visibility caused treacherous conditions that stranded hundreds of motorists in their vehicles or forced them to crowd into a high school when the Trans-Canada Highway closed near Strathmore. More heavy snow in January proved too much for the roofs of many big buildings in Alberta. On January 26, the roof of a furniture store in Leduc collapsed, leaving a gaping five- to 10-metre hole. Roof collapses also occurred at gas stations, barns and public buildings. In Red Deer, the snow pack was 48 cm – just a few centimetres short of the record set in 1974.

Spring Snowstorm

A “whitewasher” storm hit the southern part of Saskatchewan and Manitoba on the last two days of April. The Trans-Canada Highway was shut down due to blizzard conditions from Sintaluta, Saskatchewan, to the Manitoba border. Authorities blamed weather and treacherous road conditions for five road fatalities in Manitoba. The storm dumped 25 cm of wet snow in some regions, up to 50 cm of snow in higher areas, and 20 to 30 mm of rain closer to the Canadian-American border. Conditions were made worse by wind gusts that reached 90 km/h. Thousands of hydro customers spent more than a day without electricity after strong winds broke poles, snapped lines or felled trees. Wind-whipped waves three-quarters of a metre high crashed over the tops of the sandbag dikes around Manitoba lakes and along the Qu'Appelle River in Saskatchewan. Fortunately, thick lake ice was gone; otherwise, damage would have been much worse.

Edmonton Swarmed; Winnipeg Skeeter-Free

In Edmonton, heavy snows (some 33 per cent greater than normal) and record rainfalls in June and July (53 per cent more than normal) created the perfect habitat for mosquito breeding not seen in more than a decade. Adding to that, the weather made it difficult for spraying, giving mosquito larvae a great head start on hatching and leaving golfers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts to constantly complain about the ensuing swarms. In Winnipeg, it was a different story altogether as the city gladly passed on the title of “mosquito capital” to Edmonton. This year’s cool spring temperatures helped slow the emergence of mosquitoes, and the hot summer weather dried the ground creating an environment where new mosquitoes couldn’t hatch. The last time the city saw such a low mosquito count was in 1980.

 Four Alberta Tornadoes

On July 7, west-central Alberta could best be described as a “thunderstorm nursery” when it spawned a series of severe thunderstorms featuring four separate tornadoes. A funnel cloud first touched down southwest of Bergen about 4:40 p.m., followed an hour later by a tornado hitting 15 km southwest of Olds. Two twisters touched down near Sundre. Classic tornado signs were all there: noisy hail, a greenish sky and inky-black, rotating clouds. Property damage included downed trees, granaries, power lines and damaged homes.

Calgary’s Severe Summer Weather

Just after noon on July 3, winds gusting up to 100 km/h blasted through Calgary, downing power lines, toppling trees, swamping sailboats and stirring up a wall of dust. Outside the city, the wind felled a brick firewall next to a theatre in Strathmore. Experts referred to the sudden and swift wind blast as a “dry microburst” – a very intense downdraft of air that brings with it strong, fast winds that push outward when they reach the ground. On the Glenmore Reservoir, rescue teams pulled a few boats back to shore after violent winds created some of the biggest waves ever seen there.

Ten days later, another storm damaged about 10 homes and tore down several fences. Photographic evidence confirmed the storm to be a F0 tornado – Calgary’s first tornado since 2009 and the ninth since 1970, with all but one rated as an F0. Residents spent the day cleaning up shingles, siding and other debris that blew into their yards. Others were busy patching holes in roofs and siding. Even a trampoline flew away in the storm.

A week later, a much larger thunderstorm wreaked havoc across most of the city, triggering flash flooding that left drivers trapped on major roadways, setting fires to trees and dropping quarter-sized hail in areas just outside the city limits. Several basements flooded and manhole covers popped off, leaving water in some neighbourhoods with a depth of a metre or more.

If that weren’t enough, Calgary residents and emergency crews faced flooded streets following a deluge of rain and hail on August 5 from an unusually slow-moving thunderstorm. In a freak accident, rain swept an elderly man to his death beneath his car when he waded into knee-deep water. Water from flooded streets also poured into vehicles left abandoned, while hail as large as golf balls caused widespread property damage.

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