Eight devastating Canadian Hurricanes
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.
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 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.
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
Hurricane Hazel, October 1954
Although nowhere near the sea, Ontario does feel the effects of hurricanes in the United States, but Hurricane Hazel took that to a whole other level. It remains one of the worst and deadliest storms ever to hit Ontario.
Hazel had its origins in the Caribbean, and tracked inland through the U.S. before merging with a cold front and then striking Ontario (this source says the Hazel that struck Toronto was technically a different storm from the Hazel that formed at sea).
The problem was, a rainier-than-usual fall had left the ground thoroughly saturated, so when Hazel’s deluge started, it couldn’t soak into the ground. Environment Canada estimates as much as 90 per cent of precipitation ran into the region’s rivers and streams.
And it was a LOT of rain. In parts of Toronto, as much as 285 mm of rain fell in just 48 hours, and even lesser amounts elsewhere caused water levels to rise as much as 8 m.
Roads were washed out, and trains were swept off tracks. The raging waters ripped entire homes off of their foundations, trapping their occupants on top of their roofs.
The death toll was 81, including more than 30 who were killed on a single street in Toronto. Around 1,900 families were homeless in the city, out of a total 4,000 families across southern Ontario.
The damage was estimated at $100 million, a staggering total that would translate to around $1 billion today.
The silver lining was that it forced people in the region to take water management seriously. Several conservation authorities, including the TRCA, arose from the storm with a mandate to protect, and warn, against future flood disasters.
The Great Nova Scotia Hurricane, August 1873
This is where the death toll numbers start reaching staggering proportions … not so much because the hurricanes were stronger, but because infrastructure wasn’t what it is today, and warning systems were still in their infancy, where they existed at all.
The storm of August 1873 is arguably Nova Scotia’s deadliest on record. When it passed the province, paying special attention to Cape Breton, it wrecked an incredible 1,200 ships, sending them to the bottom or driving them ashore, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.
Multiple sources put the death toll at around 600 total, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Environment Canada says 100 of the dead died in the waters off Newfoundland.
As well, some 900 homes were destroyed, and when the cost to infrastructure and vessels was totaled up, it came to around $3.5 million, or $70 million in 1990s terms.
In the aftermath, communication was identified as a real factor, as the interruption of telegraph service from Toronto to Halifax kept officials from getting the word out. That convinced authorities at the time to start thinking about new and improved warning systems.
August, it seems, was a cursed month for Nova Scotia. In the 1920s, three storms in separate years killed a total of 276 people.
Saxby Gale, October 1869
Canada was only a year old when a British naval officer, Stephen Saxby, penned a letter to a London newspaper warning of a monster storm that he predicted would strike October 5, 1869.
Meteorology as we know it was in its infancy, so Saxby, according to this British source, made his predictions based on the behaviour of the sun and moon, and on that day, he said our lunar companion would be close enough to the Earth to have an impact.
We’re not sure how seriously anyone took that, but people did take notice when Canadian meteorologist Frederick Allison wrote to a Halifax newspaper on September 30 the following year, warning of a serious storm that would hit the Maritimes in a week.
It did, it was enormous, and it interacted with the tides of the Bay of Fundy, some of the highest in the world, to cause massive flooding in New Brunswick.
At one point, Environment Canada says, much of the Isthmus of Chignecto was underwater, with water levels eight feet above normal. According to this account, that’s four feet higher than many of the dikes the early Acadian settlers built to keep the waters away from the fertile lowlands of southeastern New Brunswick.
At sea, a paddlesteamer left port in Maine and was caught in the gale, but this account in the Chronicle Herald gives you an idea of the incredible feats of seamanship that saw it safely, if bedraggledly, back to land.
Environment Canada says hundreds of people were killed (this source says at least 37) altogether. And as for future flood concerns, a recent report says sea levels today are about 30 cm higher than they were at the time of Saxby’s gale.
The Great Newfoundland Hurricane of 1775
Long before modern Canada was even a twinkle in Queen Victoria’s eye, there was this: The Great Newfoundland Hurricane of 1775, a storm of unclassified severity that has been blamed for the loss of 4,000 souls.
Canadian Geographic says around 1,000 vessels and their crews were lost, with the dead including fishermen from the British Isles.
Among the shipping losses were two British warships, in the region to defend the British claim to Newfoundland. Incredibly, however, this look-back in the Telegram says only two British sailors were lost in those wrecks.
We’d encourage you to read that Telegram piece. Despite the fact that this is by far Canada’s worst-ever natural disaster, it’s not as well known as it ought to be, and there’s little information about it.
The devastation was so widespread, it may have been the source for an old Newfoundlander term “the hollies,” slang for the cries of drowning sailors carried on the winds.
Aside from the numerous tales of personal loss suffered by many Newfoundland communities, there’s a strategic element to it also. Environment Canada says the storm may have weakened Britain’s military presence in the area, at a time when the American Revolution was in its infancy.
Have you been through a Canadian hurricane? Tell us your story in the comments.