From floods to fires to weird Arctic weather, Environment Canada releases top 10 weather stories of 2019
'Mother Nature holds all the trump cards,' climatologist David Phillips reminds Canadians
As Environment and Climate Change Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips often says: "There's never a shortage of weather stories in Canada."
Once again, from coast to coast to coast, 2019 proved to be another record weather year for Canada.
Here are the top 10 weather events for Canada in 2019, compiled by Phillips.
1. Another record-setting Ottawa River flood
In the No. 1 spot is the spring flooding of the Ottawa River.
It was a perfect set-up along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers: Temperatures were below normal for seven straight months — from October 2018 to April 2019 — meaning the ground never experienced the gradual thaw that often comes with spring, nor could it absorb any falling rain. Upstream, the heavy snowpack was unable to thaw, and the region experienced several rounds of heavy rains over five weeks.
On May 1, the Ottawa River swelled, breaking the previous record in 2017. More than 6,000 residents were flooded out of their homes in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., and hundreds more from Pembroke, Ont. to Sherbrooke, Que. not to mention the flooding of precious farmland. As a result, two people died.
2. Active hurricane season as predicted
The 2019 hurricane season was a particularly active one, just as the Canadian Hurricane Centre and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration had both forecast.
Post-tropical storm Erin was the first to reach Canadian shores, on Aug. 29. It triggered flash flooding, though it was a bit of a blessing to farmers who had endured a dry summer until then.
But it was Dorian that will be most remembered. The powerful Category 5 hurricane produced winds of 300 km/h over the Bahamas and lingered, almost at a standstill, for 24 hours. Eventually, it made its way to Nova Scotia, transitioning to a post-tropical storm with winds of 155 km/h. It knocked out power to nearly half a million people across Atlantic Canada. The Insurance Board of Canada estimated that Dorian caused $140 million to insured property, with most of it in Nova Scotia.
3. (S)no-good Prairie fall
The West is no stranger to early snowfalls, but 2019 turned out to be a dinger. At the end of September, Calgary experienced a harsh, early, snowy surprise. Over four days, 32 cm fell in the city, the greatest depth of snow left on the ground in 65 years.
Southern B.C. wasn't left out of the snowy mess; 35 to 50 cm of snow was dumped across many mountain passes. And a few weeks later, it was Manitoba's turn. From Brandon to Winnipeg, snow blanketed the area. States of emergency were declared in 11 communities and more than 6,000 people were evacuated from First Nations communities.
4. A brutal FFFFebruary in Canada
February is often thought of as the harshest month of winter, and 2019 certainly lived up to that expectation.
Though the planet was experiencing an El Niño event — a warming in a region of the Pacific that typically brings milder weather to parts of Canada — the Arctic air took an icy grip on the country and wouldn't let go.
In B.C., along the coast, reaching into the Interior, it was 9 C below normal. In Calgary, February was the coldest month in 83 years. And southern Alberta could just forget about the Chinook: in 2019 it was 14 C colder than normal in the region.
Meanwhile, Toronto received a year's worth of snow in January and February alone. And Atlantic Canada? The region experienced its coldest February in 25 years.
5. Record heat continues in Arctic
Unfortunately, nothing changed in the Arctic.
Once again, 2019 proved to be another record warm year. In September, the Arctic sea ice reached its yearly minimum at 4.15 million square km, the second-lowest on record, tied with 2007 and 2016.
"The North is the most important story," Phillips said. "It will be the most important story of the century."
And it wasn't just the climate — it was the weather itself, he said.
On June 2, an EF-1 tornado was spotted near Fort Smith, N.W.T., just the fourth confirmed north of 60 degrees latitude in Canada. In mid-July the Canadian Forces Station in Alert, Nunavut, recorded a searing temperature of 21 C — 14 C warmer than average. And on Aug. 10, there were several lightning strikes within 500 km of the North Pole, a true rarity indeed.
6. Too dry early, too wet later on the Prairies
While weather may just be an inconvenience to most people, for farmers it can mean the difference between putting food on the table or not.
And in the Prairies, farmers had to deal with some truly inconsistent weather in 2019.
Even before the growing season began, farmers struggled with some of the driest conditions since record-keeping began 133 years ago. Edmonton had its driest spring on record, Regina had its driest March and Winnipeg its driest first half of the year with a measly 91 mm of precipitation (its average is 235 mm from January to June).
But once the rains started, they didn't stop.
Edmonton recorded 55 days of rain through June to August, tying for the most number of days since 1881. And it wasn't just the rain: Alberta and Saskatchewan had an early, mid-September snowfall with more of the same — including rain — in October. As a result, many farmers lost large amounts of their crops.
7. How the Grinch stole...Halloween?
Sadly, instead of a treat, many children this Halloween received a nasty trick.
Unfortunately, for kids in the East, it was donning a snowsuit, carrying an umbrella or, well, no Halloween at all.
It was wet and windy in southern Ontario: the town of Stratford received the most with 109 mm of rain. In Port Colborne, winds topped 129 km/h.
Meanwhile, in Chibougamau, Que., 30 cm of snow fell. And there was snow and rain across Newfoundland.
But it was a delayed Halloween for 20 municipalities across Quebec, including Montreal, as the festivities were postponed by a day.
8. Spring missing in the East
Spring means longer days, the sight of green grass, budding trees and warmer weather. But that just wasn't the case in much of Canada in 2019. And once again, it was the dreaded Polar Vortex who squelched our fun.
Across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin, it was the coldest spring in 22 years. By the end of May, less than five per cent of Ontario farmers' crops had been planted.
In April, the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia had endured almost triple the month's rainfall with some of the coldest soil temperatures in two decades.
In New Brunswick, Moncton's average May temperature was almost three degrees colder than average. And once again, farmers felt the crunch across the region.
9. Saint John River floods again
Persistent rain and snow and a lack of thaw was behind the flooding of New Brunswick's Saint John River once again.
At the New Brunswick-Maine border, the river had its largest stream flow in 67 years. In Fredericton, the river reached its peak at 8.37 metres, breaking 2018's record, and coming in second highest after 1973.
It was particularly difficult for residents as they desperately tried to protect their property. Canada's military was eventually called in to assist after 1,500 people were evacuated. Ultimately, 16,000 homes and buildings were damaged by floodwaters with 145 roads were shut down.
And while the province is no stranger to floods, Phillips points out that the last two floods — both the 2018 and 2019 ones — were considered to be once-in-a-hundred-year floods. However, the past year saw less of an impact than the year previous.
"There are lessons to be learned from some of these [stories], too, that we realize that the 100-year storm is becoming the 10-year storm," Phillips said. "So we need to do things differently. We just can't sit there and [say] 'Oh,well Mother Nature is going to get us.' We need to do something about it."
10. Fewer fires, more burning
After an intense fire season in 2018, it was a fairly quiet fire season in 2019, with fires down 40 per cent across the country.
Roughly 422,000 lightning strikes were recorded in B.C. — which experienced its worst season in history in 2018 — far surpassing the average of 266,000. But the good thing is, it was accompanied by wet weather.
But it was Alberta that broke from the trend, where fires consumed an area roughly 14 times that of the average. It was the second-worst season on record. By the end of May, 10,000 people had been evacuated from their homes.
Ontario also experienced severe forest fires. In northwestern Ontario, forest fires caused poor air quality in several First Nation communities for almost two weeks, resulting in 2,500 residents being evacuated.
In the end
Phillips said there's a message to be taken away from these weather events.
"There's no region that I would say had the worst weather," said Phillips. "It's not new weather, though … it's the same old weather that our grandparents talked about, but it's just that the statistics are different: the frequency, the intensity, the out of season, out of place, anything like that that just seems to make it different than it was."
And he reminds Canadians: "Mother Nature holds all the trump cards."
Here is Phillips' complete list of Top 10 Weather Stories of 2019 including a breakdown for regions across the country.