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Eight devastating Canadian Hurricanes

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Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, August 25, 2014, 9:35 AM -

Tomorrow is the start of Hurricane Week here at the Weather Network.

While not as prone to these powerful storms as our U.S. neighbours, our country occasionally finds itself in their path, with sometimes catastrophic results.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but we've put together this look back at eight storms which, for one reason or another, stand out among the numerous hurricanes that have tracked this far north.

Hurricane Igor, September 2010

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season was an unusually severe one. A total of 19 storms formed, 12 of which became full-blown hurricanes. Five of those reached a strength of Category 3.

Enter Igor. This lookback by Environment Canada points out the Maritime provinces were already battered by Hurricane Earl earlier in September when Igor set its sights on Newfoundland.

As it brushed Newfoundland, just missing landfall but veering closer than expected, it left a scar on the island’s cultural memory that won’t soon be forgotten, due to the immense damage it left behind.

With peak winds of 172 km/h, it lashed buildings and power infrastructure, with more than 70,000 hydro customers left in the dark after the storm finally left.

But the real enemy was the rain. Many communities broke all time records for rainfall, recording more than 150 mm. One location on the Burin Peninsula marked a staggering 239 mm having fallen during the storm.

That, coupled with storm surge, swept away roads and bridges across the island, such that more than 150 communities were cut off. 

Image: NASA.

Image: NASA.

One such washout was the cause of the storm’s only fatality: an 80-year-old man who was washed out to sea when the driveway he was standing on collapsed, according to the Associated Press.

Cleanup took a considerable amount of time, and the economic losses were enormous: Some $65 million dollars in insured claims alone, along with $120 million in uninsured claims.

Hurricane Juan, September 2003

When Tropical Storm Arthur knocked out power to 245,000 hydro customers in Nova Scotia earlier this year, it took days to hook everybody back up. As criticism of Nova Scotia Power’s re-connection efforts built up, the utility defended itself by saying the storm was the worst since Hurricane Juan in 2003.

That name is well known not only in the Maritimes, but across Canada. So destuctive was this storm that the name itself was retired by the World Meteorological Organization at Canada’s request, the first time a Canadian hurricane name was scrubbed from future seasons.

The Category 2 storm hit Nova Scotia’s South Shore a little after midnight on September 29, 2003, with winds gusting up to 185 km/h, and storm surge of 150 cm.

The storm has been blamed for eight deaths, according to Environment Canada: Two people were killed when a tree fell on their car, two fishermen were lost near Anticosti Island, three were killed in a house fire possibly sparked by candles during a power outage, and one relief worker died after the storm.

EC says more than 300,000 customers were without power in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Coastal infrastructure was wrecked, yachts were sunk, and millions of trees were blown down, including 70,000 in Point Pleasant Park, according to CTV.

At one point, the Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth had to be evacuated, as the storm’s strong winds made the building sway slightly, according to EC.

In PEI, parts of the Island looked like a war zone the next morning, according to the Guardian, but Juan apparently did nothing to stop Islanders from voting in the provincial election scheduled that day. Turnout was 70 per cent according to Macleans (Environment Canada says it was 83 per cent).

Typhoon Freda, October 1962

British Columbia’s south coast is supposed to be the land of pleasant summers and mild winters, at least in the popular mind, which is probably why few east of the Rockies likely have ever heard of Typhoon Freda.

Environment Canada says tropical storms – known as typhoons in the Pacific – don’t hit B.C. directly, and Freda was actually post-tropical by the time it reached the Lower Mainland. The trouble started when the remnants combined with another system and gathered enough to cause serious damage to a part of the country not at all used to tropical storms.

Image: B.C. Hydro

Image: B.C. Hydro

Historica Canada says the storm’s winds were gusting more than 100 km/h when they reached Vancouver on the night of October 12 (B.C. Hydro puts maximum gusts up to 145 km/h). Over the course of four hours, a fifth of all trees in Stanley Park were blown down, some of which were 500 years old – older than European presence in the area.

Seven people were killed, at least one of whom died when her car was crushed by a tree.

Power was out to thousands of people, in some cases taking more than a week to restore, according to B.C. Hydro. And it all happened a day after line crews went home after fixing widespread damage from an unrelated windstorm.

All told, around 580 linemen were called out to restore power. In terms of total damage to infrastructure and buildings. B.C. Hydro estimates the costs at $600 million in today’s terms.

Escuminac Disaster, June 1959

New Brunswick’s worst-ever hurricane is also one of the deadliest in Canada in the 20th Century.

When a fishing fleet of 32 boats set out from Escuminac, on the south shore of Miramichi Bay, on June 19, 1959, the fishermen aboard weren’t expecting much in the way of catastrophic weather. But when the forecast changed, and it looked like a powerful storm was on the way, there was no way to reach them: None of the boats had radios.

The unnamed storm brought winds of 120 km/h to the bay, whipping up waves of 15 m or more. The fleet struggled against them, but for many, there was no hope.

By the time the storm was going, 22 boats were sunk, taking with them 35 men and boys, the youngest being only 13 years old.

The 16 surviving fishermen would have returned to a devastated community. Escuminac was a hub for fishermen around the bay, the catch they brought in, then as now, was the community’s main livelihood.

Aside from the human cost, estimated damage to boats, fishing gear and coastal infrastructure would be around $12.7 million in today’s dollars, according to the CBC.

NEXT PAGE: Hurricane Hazel comes to Toronto


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