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The top 25 storms of the past 25 years

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Digital writers
theweathernetwork.com

Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 8:01 PM -

A quarter century is a long time to be on the air. Over the course of 25 years, we've been there for a huge number of thunderstorms, blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes and every other manner of severe weather from British Columbia to Newfoundland.

It wasn't easy, but we narrowed down the staggering list of severe weather events we've covered to this selection of those that really stood out.

If you were there for any of these, share your memories in the comments section! Otherwise, here's a look back.

The Calgary, Alta., hailstorm, September 7, 1991

For 30 minutes around dinner time on September 7, 1991, big chunks of ice pelted Calgarians' homes and vehicles. And by 'big', we mean up to 10 cm, a third the length of your average ruler.

The barrage split trees and broke windows and siding. Most birds caught in it didn't have a chance.

When it finally passed, the hailstorm left behind enough damaged property and dented cars to bring the total losses past the $300 million mark.

At the time, it was the most destructive hailstorm ever, and Canada's second costliest.

The Saguenay, Que., flood, July 19-20, 1996

This massive flood event shattered records in Quebec and Canada, due to its sheer volume and cost.

A massive storm pounded the region with around 280 mm of rain in just a few hours, producing the largest overland deluge in Canada up to that point in the 20th Century - about the same as the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls in a two-month period.

Parts of Chicoutimi and La Baie were submerged in more than 2 m of water.

The flooding and mudslides that resulted drove 16,000 people from their homes. Ten people lost their lives, around 488 homes were completely destroyed, and another 1,230 damaged. 

The total losses from this destructive flood came to more than $1.5 billion, Canada's first-ever billion-dollar disaster. It wouldn't be the last.

B.C.'s "Whitemare" winter storms, December 1996

This was NOT your typical B.C. winter.

The balmy west coast saw a series of storms in the last 10 days of December that dumped more than 100 cm of snow at the airport in the capital Victoria, with major amounts in Vancouver as well.

In Victoria itself, 65 cm of snow was recorded on December 29, breaking the all-time record for the city, and even outstripping records in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

The massive snowfall forced officials to call in the army to help with the cleanup, for the first time since 1916.

Manitoba's Red River Flood of Spring 1997

For people along Manitoba's Red River, this was the flood of the century, and with good reason.

All the ingredients were there to make the annual rise in water levels a big one: Frozen, saturated soil, a deep snowpack and record-high water content.

It all came together to push the waters of the Red River 12 m above flood level, inundating 1,840 square kilometres of land and forcing 28,000 to flee to safety.

The waters crested in Winnipeg on May 2, and when they finally subsided, the damages came to around $500 million.

The Ice Storm of the Century, 1998

From January 4 to January 10, this storm transformed eastern Canada from Ontario's Georgian Bay to the Bay of Fundy in the Maritimes to an frozen landscape encrusted with thick ice.

The water equivalent of freezing rain and ice pellets exceeded 100 mm in some regions, and some kind of freezing precipitation held on for more than 80 hours.

The region was all but paralyzed, and power infrastructure was wrecked. Around 1,000 transmission towers and 30,000 utility poles were damaged or toppled, along with millions of trees.

The human cost: As many as 35 dead. Insured losses came to $1.5 million, and government and industry contributions would push the total cost of the storm to more than $3 billion.

NEXT: Toronto's snowstorm of the century

The Toronto snowstorm of 1999

For Canada's largest city, this snowstorm was one for the record books.

On the second day of the year alone, up to 40 cm of snow fell across southern Ontario. Four more storms ensued, dumping more a year's worth of snow on Toronto between January 2 and January 15, the snowiest two-week period the city had seen since 1846.

That amounted to 118.4 cm at the greatest extent.

This was too much for a city not accustomed to winter blasts of that magnitude. Mayor Mel Lastman was forced to call in the military to help clear all the snow away.

The cost of the operation came to $70 million. Region-wide, the storm was blamed for 11 deaths.

The Pine Lake, Alta., tornado of July 14, 2000

The first deadly Canadian tornado of 13 years was large and powerful, roaring onto the scene at F3 strength, boasting winds of 330 km/h.

Its full fury was centred on the Green Acres campground southeast of Red Deer, Alta. 

Those powerful gusts and sustained winds were enough to hurl between 40 and 50 trailers into adjacent Pine Lake, while sucking fish from its waters and scattering them over the area.

The ordeal was over in a minute, but it lasted long enough to leave 12 people dead and 140 injured. Damage estimates were in the $13 million range.

The New Brunswick ice storm of February, 2003

Groundhog Day 2003 was marked by an ice storm that brought 40-60 mm of freezing rain - Moncton, one of the largest metropolises of the East Coast, experienced its worst storm in 75 years.

And when the rain finally stopped, plummeting temperatures were made worse by a cold wind gusting more than 75 km/h and generating wind chill of -27.

It took days to chip away the ice and clear away the snow. Schools were closed for a week and numerous roof collapses were reported. Numerous livestock were killed.

Power lines and trees, laden with ice accumulations of up to 33 mm, toppled across the province, leaving more than 60,000 people in the cold and dark, with some without power for a week.

In terms of cost and magnitude, this storm hit New Brunswick harder than the eastern Canadian ice storm of 1998.

British Columbia's 2003 fire season

The summer of 2003 was one of flame and smoke in Canada's western-most province.

Abnormally hot and dry weather contributed to more than 2,500 wildfire starts, spelling the worst wildfire season in B.C. in 50 years.

The result: More than 2,600 square kilometres of land were blackened and charred, 334 homes burned to the ground and three pilots lost their lives fighting the flames.

The cost of the damage, and the massive firefighting efforts required to keep the flames at bay, was more than $700 million. Insurers deemed it the costliest wildfire season in B.C. history.

Hurricane Juan, September 29, 2003

The year 2003 was a wild one for tropical weather, with 16 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, and the season ended up being the longest in 50 years.

For Atlantic Canadians, the season came to a head with Hurricane Juan. This Category 2 storm boasted sustained winds of 158 km/h when it struck the Halifax, the largest city in Nova Scotia and the east coast. 

It was the first direct hit on the city since the late 19th Century, and this storm would be remembered across the region for its sheer power.

The winds blew down power lines and damaged countless homes. An estimated 100 million trees were toppled and, amazingly, the 19-floor Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth had to be evacuated, after it began swaying in the wind enough to make its occupants nauseous. 

The storm surge was more than 1.5 m, and 20-metre waves were reported in Halifax Harbour, a sampling of a violent ocean that swept many shores clean of boats and docks.

Storm losses were more than $100 million across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and Juan was blamed for eight deaths across the region.

NEXT: And after Juan, 'White Juan.'

The 'White Juan' blizzard, February 17-20, 2004

Meteorologists knew this nor'easter would be a bad one. 

Even before it earned the nickname 'White Juan', hearkening back to the hurricane that lashed the region in September, its central pressure plunged 57 millibars in 42 hours. A rapid pressure drop like that is known as a 'weather bomb,' and White Juan turned out to be one of the most explosive ever, technically more so than Hurricane Juan itself.

That translated into winds gusting up to 124 km/h, snowfall rates of 5 cm an hour, and blinding blizzard conditions for 24 hours.

Halifax and Yarmouth, N.S., along with Charlottetown, PEI, broke all-time 24-hour snowfall records. By February 19, Halifax was buried beneath 88.5 cm of snow, and the city issued a nightly nine-hour curfew to clear away the estimated 6 million tonnes of the stuff.

It was almost a week before all schools and transportation links were fully re-opened, but miraculously, no deaths were reported.

The southern Ontario severe weather outbreak of 2005

On August 19, 2005, a line of severe thunderstorms blew through southern Ontario - leaving behind more than $500 million in damage, at the time the province's costliest weather disaster.

Dozens of thunderstorms popped up across the region, spawning two powerful F2 tornadoes, with winds gusting between 180 km/h and 250 km/h.

The first tracked through Milverton to Conestogo Lake, while the second ranged from Salem to Lake Bellwood. The twisters' winds downed trees and tore through homes, cottages and farm buildings, at one point driving a ballpoint pen 7 cm into a tree trunk.

Toronto was even briefly under a rare tornado warning, but it wasn't twisters that caused the city woe, but rain, hail and straight line winds peaking at 72 km/h.

The violent storms that hit the city spawned 1,400 lightning strikes a minute, and dumped 130 mm of rain at Environment Canada' Downsview office - 100 mm of that in just an hour.

Those rains caused flash flooding that washed out roads in the city, including a 30 m stretch of Finch Avenue, and four people had to be rescued after falling into the swollen Don River.

Luckily, no one was reported killed.

B.C.'s Stanley Park windstorm of December 15, 2006

You know it's a windy day when people start comparing it to a typhoon from the 1960s.

Winds in excess of 100 km/h literally blew away speed records along the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, comparable to Typhoon Freda in 1962.

At Victoria, the winds topped 124 km/h, and Race Rocks in the Juan de Fuca strait hit 157 km/h.

Around 250,000 people in the region were without power in the storm's aftermath, but it was the storm's effect on Vancouver's Stanley Park that give it its name: Thousands of trees were blown down, forcing a closure that lasted days.

In all the winds caused more than $100 million in property losses throughout the region.

The storm's effects reached well inland, although there the story was focused more on snow. 60 cm fell on Whistler in less than 24 hours, and motorists were stranded for up to 14 hours on the Sea-to-Sky highway.

The Prairie Blizzard of January 2007

This was the worst winter storm to strike Canada's Prairie provinces in half a century.

Gusts of more than 100 km/h made for wind chills of -40 and caused intense white-out conditions.

Saskatoon, Sask., was reportedly the worst hit. Although the city "only" officially received around 17 cm of snow on January 10, the winds blew it into waist-high drifts along major roads.

Abandoned vehicles littered the streets, and four people reportedly lost their lives in the storm, some after leaving their stranded cars.

It cost around $1 million to clear the snow away.

Canada's most powerful tornado hits Elie, Manitoba, June 22, 2007

Canada is one of the most tornado-prone nations in the world, but this was the country's first recorded F5 twister, with top winds estimated at 420-510 km/h.

It touched down at 6:25 p.m. on June 22, 2007, just north of the Trans-Canada Highway near the community of Elie, Man.

It was a monster: 300 m wide with a track 5.5 km for the 35 minutes it was on the ground.

Bark was sandblasted off of trees, and an entire house was picked up off the ground and carried some distance.

And the death toll? Exactly zero. Many of the town's residents were attending the local high school graduation ceremony, out of harm's way.

NEXT: Atlantic Canada's biggest river bursts its banks

The St. John River flood of Spring 2008

New Brunswick's scenic St. John River, the largest on the east coast, turned against the people living on its banks in the spring of 2008.

Record snowfall the previous winter, deep snow cover, sudden warming and lots of rain all combined to produce the worst flooding in 35 years.

No one was reported killed, but the effects were still devastating. The floods damaged more than 1,600 properties, and 60 people had to be rescued.

Part of the Trans-Canada Highway was submerged, and in the provincial capital Fredericton, the floodwaters' highest peak was 8.36 m.

In all, the damages totalled more than $50 million.

The southern Ontario tornado outbreak of August 20, 2009

Just one twister can be bad enough, and on a summer day in August 2009, southern Ontario saw 19 of them touch down in total.

Powerful storms spawned the twisters, along with stiff straight-line winds. One cell was tracked for 200 km.

One twister claimed the life of an 11-year-old boy at a day camp in Durham in Grey County. Other tornadoes were reported in the populous Greater Toronto Area community of Vaughan.

And in Toronto itself, a funnel cloud was spotted above Yonge and Bloor, the city's heart.

When the storms finally died town, the tornado tally stood at four F2s, eleven F1s and four F0. Altogether, 600 homes, mostly in the Maple and Woodbridge areas, were damaged.

Hurricane Igor, September 21, 2010

The island of Newfoundland was the path of this powerful hurricane, rated at Category 4 at its strongest.

Peak winds of 120-140 km/h lashed the island, with a peak gust of 172 km/h recorded at Cape Pine. On top of that, torrential rains doused Newfoundland, setting rainfall records, with the most reported at 239 mm on the Burin Peninsula.

The result was massive flooding, washing away roads and bridges and cutting off 150 communities. States of emergency were declared in 22 of them.

Incredibly, only one person was reported killed, but the island was devastated. 

Insured and non-insured costs together totalled $185 million, and even with the aid of the military, restoration efforts lasted well into 2011. 

The flood that wouldn't end: Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Fall 2010 to Summer 2011

This nightmare for Prairie-dwellers lasted more than 150 days, after the elements conspired against the people living along the waterways of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

It started with an October weather bomb that deluged the Prairies with up to 100 mm of rain, and it just kept going right through to July the next year.

In the mix was a snowpack that ranged from normal to above normal across the region, guaranteeing even more flooding when the spring began.

More than 1,800 soldiers joined forces with volunteers, emergency management personnel and even jail inmates to try keep the floodwaters at bay.

Thousands of people were evacuated, three million hectares of farmland were submerged, more than 70 communities declared states of emergency, and around 850 roads were submerged, including parts of the Trans-Canada Highway, the country's key link between east and west.

In all, more than $1 billion was spent of flood fighting and victim compensation.

The Richelieu, Que., flood of Spring 2011

Quebec's worst natural disaster since the Saguenay floods - and also the slowest.

Rivers were already swollen with spring meltwater when torrential rains added to the mix. With the rivers full and the ground saturated, there was nowhere for the waters to go but up.

The overflow spilled into Mississquoi Bay, and into the Richelieu River, with floodwaters covering the land up to a kilometre away from the river's actual edge in at least 20 communities.

The damage came to almost $80 million. Cleanup took weeks.

NEXT: The Prairie fire that destroyed a town

The Slave Lake, Alta., fire, May 13 2011

The landscape around the northern Alberta community of Slave Lake was bone-dry when this massive firestorm began.

The flames were driven by 100 km/h winds, which caused power lines to short out, sparking even more fires, quickly encircling the town, and racing through it at a rate of 70 m per minute.

Around 400 structures were incinerated in the 1,000 C heat. Elsewhere, a helicopter pilot was killed when his aircraft crashed near Slave Lake.

The damage totalled $700 million, but three weeks after the fire ended, the rains started.   

In all, there were 17 consecutive days of rain in June, with more than 200 mm falling on the region and causing localized flooding, adding insult to injury to what had already been a devastating ordeal.

The Goderich, Ont. tornado, August 21, 2011

Residents of the Lake Huron town of Goderich had almost no time to prepare for this twister.

It was spawned by a classic supercell making its way onshore. A tornado warning was issued at 3:45 p.m. on August 11, 2011, ten minutes before the tornado roared ashore.

By then, it was a monster, rated F3 with winds in the range of 250-320 km/h, with a track of 20 km and a width ranging from 200 m to 1,500 m.

The town's central square was devastated, with several structures destroyed.

One man was killed, and the town faced a long rebuilding process.

The B.C. Floods of Spring 2012

People in B.C.'s Mainland Interior had good reason to be worried about the spring thaw in early 2012.

Snow cover was up to 135 per cent above normal, and March snowfall at Rogers Pass totalled 324 cm, more than 170 per cent above average.

Making matters worse, huge tracts of land covered with lodgepole pine trees were decimated by the ongoing pine beetle infestation, further reducing the watershed's ability to handle large amounts of meltwater.

In late April the Okanagan and Similkameen regions began to flood. Cooler weather through May stalled the flood, but only for so long, as rains in June accelerated snowmelt, and a big storm system at the end of that month was the final trigger for flooding.

When it came, it was widespread, forcing several communities to declare states of emergency. In Salmon Arm, flash floods were powerful enough to wash out roads and knock houses off their foundations.

The Alberta flood emergency of June 2013

This was one for the ages. High snowpack from an unusually snowy system combined with a massive rainy system that parked itself over the Rockies for days, to dump hundreds of millimetres of rain over parts of Alberta.

In Calgary, where 68 mm of rain fell in 48 hours, the Bow and elbow rivers ran high, eventually bursting their banks and inundating a large slice of the city, including the city's Saddledome, just weeks before the Calgary stampede.

More than 100,000 people were driven from their homes province-wide, the country's largest peace-time evacuation in more than 60 years. Bridges and culverts were washed out, vehicles and homes were badly damaged, and four people were swept to their deaths by the floodwaters. The towns of Banff and Canmore were temporarily cut off due to a Trans-Canada Highway closure.

The final damage tally is expected to exceed $6 billion, officially Canada's costliest natural disaster.

The eastern Canada ice storm of December 2013

The conditions were just right for freezing rain in late December - a LOT of freezing rain, leading to ice accretions of up to 30 mm.

Power infrastructure across Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes was badly damaged, with hundreds of thousands of outages reported, some lasting well past Christmas, in the midst of bitterly cold temperatures.

Trees and power lines went down beneath the sheer weight of the ice, badly damaging parked cars beneath them. The damage was so severe, it looked like an ice tornado had gone through the worst-hit areas.

Toronto Hydro alone spent $12.9 million in the battle to restore power to Canada's largest city, as did utilities across eastern Canada.

The final cost of the storm is not yet known, but it is expected to be extensive.

WERE YOU THERE? If you experienced one of these devastating weather events in person (or think we missed one), let us know in the comments section below!


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