10 weather stories that defined Canadians in 2016: Read
Sunday, January 1, 2017, 11:33 AM - With 2017 just days away, here's a look at some of Canada's top weather stories of the year.
WINTER IS HERE: With La Niña helping shape global patterns what will Canadians expect from winter? Find out with The Weather Network’s 2016 Winter Forecast | FORECAST & MAPS HERE
1. Fort McMurray’s “Fire Beast”
The El Niño-influenced winter-spring was the driest in 72 years of weather recordings at Fort McMurray and the second warmest on record. Consequently, the period between the disappearance of snow cover and the appearance of new forest greening (known as the spring dip) was much longer than normal. Weeks of warm, dry weather created a bone-dry forest floor – the perfect breeding conditions for a fire storm with Fort McMurray at the epicentre.
On May 1, the fire started, was quickly contained, but then blew out of control due to blustery winds. Within two days, the fire had doubled in size, jumped highways and wide rivers, and headed downtown. Fort McMurray’s 88,000 residents were then ordered to leave town causing a mass exodus of natural disaster refugees. By May 4, the wildfire could be seen from space. In the end, it charred an area the size of Prince Edward Island, burned 2,400 homes and other buildings, scorched 18,600 vehicles and left parts of Alberta’s fifth largest city a smoky wasteland. Nicknamed “The Beast”, the wildfire became the costliest catastrophe in Canadian history with total costs reaching $4 billion in insured losses and billions more in lost business, infrastructure and uninsured losses.
2. Super El Niño Cancels Winter
Winter 2015-2016 was the second warmest winter since country-wide records began in 1948. A persistent “super” El Niño got much of the credit for the missing winter globally and in Canada. Another consideration was shrinking Arctic sea ice, which has been thinning and retreating to record levels in recent years. Regina had its second warmest winter with records going back to 1883 and not a single February day below -20°C. Even Winnipeg, which is arguably Canada’s coldest major city, had never experienced a winter with only one day below -30°C until this one. Incredibly, one year after Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway set a record for the most number of skating days in a season (59), it set a record for the least number (18).
Farther east, there had never been a milder winter in Moncton in at least 135 years. The mildness and lack of snow led to the cancellation of winter carnivals, dogsled races, ice fishing derbies and pond hockey tournaments. Across the country, the record mild winter had a major impact – both negative and positive. While it meant an extraordinarily short ice road season, it also eradicated the threat of spring flooding for most parts of the country. Strangely, an extraordinary lack of winter in the west turned out to be ideal for alpine skiers and snowboarders. In March the mountain resorts had so much snow they extended the ski season well into May. On the other hand in the East, ski resorts saw one of the poorest seasons in memory.
3. August Long Weekend Storm on the Prairies … Big and Costly
July was a month of stormy weather across the Prairies, but the storm on the August 1 long weekend had the most far-reaching and expensive impacts. On July 30, an intense low pressure system with an accompanying cold front swept through Alberta and continued into the eastern Prairies the next day. Wind, rain and hail battered homes, shattered windows, shredded flower beds, dented automobiles, ripped siding, lifted roof shingles and damaged several commercial airplanes. As the storm rolled through Edmonton, it flooded Whitemud Drive and stranded motorists for the second time in a week.
Further north, Fort McMurray was once again a target. Twelve weeks after they couldn’t get a drop of rain, the fire-ravaged city was pounded with more than a month’s worth of rain in two hours (87 mm). In Saskatchewan, daytime heating and an unstable atmosphere caused two tornadoes, straight-line winds, flooding rains and grapefruit-size hailstones. The storm swept into Manitoba on the Sunday and holiday Monday packing the same fierce weather. Insurance claims numbered 42,000 and losses totalled $410 million, with the vast majority in Alberta.
4. A Summer to Remember in the East
Summer weather arrived in the East on the Victoria Day weekend, and it stayed consistently hot, humid, almost dry and fairly quiet past Labour Day. It was definitely a summer to remember, with persistent warmth, perfect weekends and little foul weather. The only downside was hefty hydro bills that offered a testament to how hot it got. At Toronto Pearson International Airport, there were 39 days with maximum temperatures at or above 30°C compared to a normal 14. That was more hot days than the three previous summers combined. Sizzling temperatures in Toronto above 35°C occurred in all four summer months – June, July, August and September − a first for the city. Despite excessive heat, the province recorded only one smog and air health advisory. But what was good for campers and beachgoers, was bad for farmers and gardeners.
A prolonged drought prevailed across a broad swath of Ontario, from Chatham north to Ottawa and into Quebec and Nova Scotia. Quebec’s Eastern Townships received 25 to 75% less precipitation than normal at the beginning of summer. Residents in western Nova Scotia confronted dry river beds, cracked soil, depleted wells and tinder-dry brush. At Yarmouth, rainfall totals from June 1 to mid-September were less than 30% of normal. In spite of stringent bans, water levels steadily dropped to the point where the inland Nova Scotia fishery virtually shut down. In the Niagara region, farmers were desperate for rain. Even when it fell in many parts of western Ontario in mid-August, Niagara growers received a relative sprinkle. For the first time in nearly 20 years, some vintners resorted to irrigating their vineyards.
5. November’s Heat Wave and December’s Deep Freeze
Early October seemed too soon for wind chills and blowing snow on the Prairies. Luckily, October’s false winter ended before Halloween with a remarkable warm-up. By mid-November, more than 300 daily records had fallen across the West and North − some by an incredible five degrees or more. At least twenty cities recorded their warmest November on record, including Winnipeg (by +2°C), Brandon, Regina, Prince Albert, Kelowna and Vancouver. The real surprise was that the warm southern weather persisted for more than four weeks, which gave farmers and ranchers a second chance to finish the delayed harvest.
With a new month came different weather. In the first week of December, a mass of Arctic air swept southward across British Columbia, east into the Prairies and Northern Ontario. The frigid air gripped the West for two weeks with temperatures at times 15 degrees below average and wind chills of -40 and below. Victoria and Vancouver endured their coldest temperatures in four years and Edmonton registered three maximum daily temperatures below -20°C; there were no such afternoons all last year. Tragically, the bone-chilling cold cost several Canadians their lives. For the homeless, the bitter cold made a hard life harder. Millions of Canadians cranked up the thermostat to beat back the cold, pushing up power usage to record loads on the Prairies. Coastal British Columbia received more snow in one week in early December than they had realized in the previous two years. Southeastern Saskatchewan and Southern Manitoba were walloped by a huge pre-winter storm dumping 20 to 50 cm of snow leading to school and highway closings, and roof collapses. By mid-month, Easterners were re-introduced to the dreaded Polar Vortex, the Colorado low, and associated snow squalls. The frigid air didn’t loosen its grip until the first official day of winter but did ensure that millions of Canadians had a white Christmas.
6. Arctic Sea Ice Going, Going…
The Arctic sea ice maximum in March was a fraction above last year’s record low − not surprising given the exceptionally warm weather at the top of the world, which was 2 to 6°C above average. At the end of May, the Beaufort Sea is normally 92% frozen. This year it was only a little more than half ice-covered, with melting that began a full month ahead of normal (a record early start). With an abundance of fairly thin ice in the Arctic Ocean at the beginning of the melt season, there was a good chance that the minimum ice extent in mid- to late-September would once again be close to a record low in 2016 and that’s exactly what happened.
According to the Canadian Ice Service, Arctic waters in Canada had their third lowest minimum ice coverage on record (2012 had the lowest; 2011 the second lowest). In the Beaufort Sea, mid-September sea ice was at its second lowest minimum coverage. The freeze-up started on time, but with the large area of open water, it wasn’t until the end of November that ice cover was expansive – a remarkable four weeks later than normal.
7. Wild Summer Prairie Weather
Weather forecasters were kept busy on the Prairies this summer with one of the longest and most active storm seasons ever since statistics were first kept in 1991. Clusters of intense thunderstorms were more frequent and seemed to move slower than usual, taking longer to spread their misery. There were numerous reports of large hail, heavy rain, high winds, frequent lightning and countless localized events that included tornadoes, brief non-destructive landspouts and microbursts.
Tornadoes were much more frequent − 48 vortices compared to the 30-year average of 34 – and were evenly divided among the three provinces. There were also 564 severe weather events (large hail, strong winds, heavy rain and tornadoes), which is over twice the normal number. Manitoba was hit the hardest with 240, followed by Alberta at 205. Nearly two-thirds of these severe weather events were hailstorms, which was twice the average, with payouts for crop hail insurance claims coming in at 50% higher than last year’s figures and well above the five-year average.
|Tornadoes |||Hail |||Strong Winds |||Heavy Rain |||Total|
|30-year Average (1986-2015)||34||128||51||26||239|
8. A Tale of Two Springs
Summery in the West
British Columbia, the Yukon and the three Prairie provinces experienced their warmest spring in nearly 70 years of record-keeping – up to 4.5 degrees warmer than normal. For Vancouver, it was the warmest and one of the driest Aprils on record. Across the West, it was beginning to look a lot like a drought with seeding being done in some of the driest conditions in years. By mid-May, forests were bone dry, humidity was low, and winds were strong and gusty, which raised the wildfire threat from high to extreme. On May 4, temperatures soared in Winnipeg to an unbelievable 35.2°C. It was the city’s earliest 35°C reading since records began in 1872 and, as it turned out, it was the highest temperature of any day in 2016 − a good seven weeks before the official start of summer. Residents gleefully flocked to parks for picnics, fraternized on patios, and cycled and golfed much earlier than usual.
Wintry in the East
Unfortunately for those in much of southern Ontario and Quebec, winter delayed its arrival until spring. For the first week of April, temperatures plummeted with new record minimum temperatures set in several localities. In Toronto, April was snowier than any of the winter months had been, with spring showers coming down as flurries. In southern Quebec, cruel April became miserable May – at least until the Victoria Day weekend – as May temperatures dipped 6 to 12°C below normal. The Eastern Townships and Beauce received 5 to 7 cm of snow, while 10 to 15 cm fell in Abitibi. May snowfalls are uncommon in southern Quebec but extremely rare after the 15th of the month. For Easterners, most of the spring was just too long, too cold and too much like the winter they didn’t get.
9. Thanksgiving Day Atlantic Weather Bomb
Hurricane Matthew was the costliest tropical storm since Sandy and the first Atlantic Category 5 hurricane in nine years. On October 9, Matthew’s core was about 320 km east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, yet its “atmospheric river” extended 1,600 km north to Atlantic Canada where it interacted with an intense, slow-moving but rapidly strengthening storm. The hybrid system intensified and began lashing and soaking eastern Nova Scotia and later Newfoundland and Labrador. Cape Breton Island bore the brunt of the storm. Sydney received 225 mm of rain, which shattered the city’s previous one-day rainfall of 129 mm. It was also Nova Scotia’s second wettest day ever. More than 140,000 Nova Scotians went without power; some for up to three days. Across central Newfoundland, storm rainfall approached 100 mm, but in Gander and Burgeo totals were closer to 150 mm. Loss-estimates from the Insurance Bureau of Canada totalled $103 million, with the vast majority of claims being made in Nova Scotia.
10. Windsor’s $100 Million Gusher
A deluge of rain fell in Windsor and Essex County at the end of September. While storm rainfall amounts varied widely, an astonishing 200 mm drenched the Windsor suburbs of Riverside and Tecumseh. Drainage and pumping equipment worked at maximum capacity but couldn’t keep up. Flood waters swamped dozens of roads, stranded cars, flooded fields and yards, and filled basements with a metre or more of dirty sewer water. Preliminary insurance-loss estimates exceeded $108 million, with over 6,100 claims, while many additional losses were not covered by insurance.
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Selected Regional Weather Highlights
From a list of 100 significant weather events across Canada in 2016, stories were rated based on factors that included the degree to which Canada and Canadians were impacted, the extent of the area affected, economic and environmental effects, and the event’s longevity as a top news story. The following is a selection of regional weather highlights of mostly local or regional importance.
- January’s back-to-back winter storms
- Minimal sea ice but lots of bergs
- Thundersnow in New Brunswick
- A sweet maple syrup season – early and long
- Record April snows in Newfoundland
- Storm knocks out power in the Maritimes
- Tropical storm Colin takes aim at Atlantic Canada
- Tornado watch on Cape Breton Island
- Winters’ first nasty blow
- Valentine’s Day cold
- Weather roars into March
- Winter’s last gasp in mid-May
- Quebec tornadoes
- $56 million storm in the Saguenay
- October deluge causes floods and landslide
- NBA All Star record cold
- Where’s the Great Lakes ice?
- Ottawa’s record snow dump
- Ontario’s earliest tornado on record
- Pre-Easter ice storm
- Windsor’s record-wet March
- Northwestern Ontario’s record-wet June
- Canada Day storm
- The year’s most powerful tornadoes
- A long tornado season
- Winter’s coldest moment
- Alaskan volcano halts flights
- No spring flooding…again
- Moose Jaw’s $75 million hailstorm
- Calgary’s miserable July – Stampede soaker
- Manitoba’s four-tornado day
- Outdoor hockey delayed by good weather
- Deadly avalanche season
- White gold for skiers and snowboarders
- Deadly March winds
- Spring fires and floods in northeast
- Record-low water levels
- Trilogy of October storms
- Umbrella fatigue
- Sunken tug leaks fuel
- January warm and windy on Baffin
- Thundersnow over Yellowknife
- Quiet forest fire season
- Record wet for Iqaluit