Canada's Top Ten Weather Stories of 2000
1. First Deadly Tornado in 13 Years Strikes Alberta
Around supper-time on Friday, July 14, in an area of Canada known for its severe summer weather, a powerful tornado spinning winds of 330 km/h slammed into the Green Acres campground about 60 km southeast of Red Deer, Alberta. For the 1,100 inhabitants in the campground, it was over in just one minute. In all, 12 people died and 140 were injured. Damage estimates were around $13 million. The Pine Lake tornado was the deadliest tornado in North America in 2000, but the first killer twister in Canada in 13 years. The last one, also in Alberta, in a trailer park, and on Friday, killed 27 people in Edmonton. The Pine Lake tornado was the fifth deadliest in Canadian history - three of which have occurred in the past 16 years.
The tornado's explosive force was both awesome and freakish. Twisting winds tossed 40 or 50 trailers into Pine Lake, yet miraculously nobody drowned. Some boats were blown right across the lake, while others were wrapped around trees. The twister bared trees and yanked others from the ground. Appliances, couches, and beds were found in the lake. On the bizarre side, the twister sucked fish from the lake and spewed them over the beach and campground. Golf balls were lodged in tree trunks, and axes were embedded in trailer walls. Yet, in the midst of the destruction, there were dinner settings left with not a plate or utensil out of place.
Throughout the summer, weather forecasters in the Prairies were extremely busy with a total of 685 severe weather events, including 91 tornadoes (the normal number is 43), 310 hailers, 130 funnel clouds, 96 heavy rain episodes and 58 damaging wind events.
2. "Bummer of A Summer" Across Canada
For most Canadians, the millennium's first summer was not much. Hard to believe, but nationally the average summer temperature was about 0.2°C warmer than normal. Apparently, how Nunavut goes, so goes Canada! Summer plainly forgot the residents of the Great Lakes /St. Lawrence where the most unseasonable temperatures in the country occurred, about 0.5°C cooler than normal.
The real story wasn't that it was so cold, rather it wasn't very hot! Torrid days with maximum temperatures above 30°C generally numbered one or two, none in Hamilton and London - not the typical 10 to 12, or the sweltering 25 to 30 which occurred the summer before. And the lack of sunshine gave the impression of much cooler temperatures.
In central Canada, it was also one of the wettest beginnings to summer on record. Nationally, it was the third wettest summer on record in 53 years - some 13% more precipitation than normal. In Ontario, there was no day in June when rain didn't fall somewhere in the province. On average, every location had about 19 days with measurable rainfall, although a few had as many as 25 - normal is 10 to 13 days. Weekends, especially long ones, were particularly nasty and this helped to magnify the wetness. In Montreal, between June 1 and October 31, it rained sometime during 19 out of 22 weekends, including every long weekend.
In coastal British Columbia, May to July was especially dank and damp. Victoria set a new record for the least amount of sunshine in May. Not to be outdone, Vancouver had 100 mm in excess of its May-to-July rainfall norm and its second wettest July on record. In Edmonton, July rain totals were slightly below normal, yet the city had 21 wet days, when normal is 13. Calgary boasted the second sunniest July on record and a June when everyday had some sunshine, yet there were 20 wet days and the month's total rainfall was 43% more than normal. London had its wettest summer ever, records date back 60 years, and Toronto set a new record for the wettest May-June ever, with records dating back to 1840.
There wasn't a region of Canada that didn't find fault with the summer. The season was a delight for mosquitoes; they lived longer too! The soggy, cool and cloudy weather wreaked havoc on the recreation and retail sectors. Business at marinas in the Great Lakes was down 25%, and park visitations in Quebec were off as much as 20%.
The weather may have been lousy for farmers and holidayers, but it was good for those with breathing difficulties. The rain and cloud and cooler temperatures meant air was fresher and cleaner than in the past with fewer smog alerts.
3. Rain Gushers Flood Ontario and Manitoba
The summer featured fewer severe weather events in Ontario - 96 compared to the 150+ events in recent years. However, twisters and hailers gave way to an unprecedented number of heavy rainfall events, sometimes known as gully washers, accounting for more than a quarter of the severe weather episodes. Day-long torrential rains lashed parts of Ontario on numerous occasions - washing out roads, filling underpasses, cutting power and flooding basements to the rafters. Unlucky residents from Windsor to Woodstock had to rid their homes of raw backed-up sewage not once, but twice and three times. On July 9, upwards of 150 mm of rain soaked the Stratford-Exeter-Woodstock area. Officials organized special garbage collections to handle the tonnes of water-logged belongings worth millions of dollars.
Heavy rainfalls might have had an effect on water quality. Local and provincial authorities tending to the Walkerton E. coli outbreak in the local water supply have suggested that heavy rains flushing cattle manure into the town's water supply might have been a factor.
A drenching rainstorm struck Muskoka on July 31 dumping rain in excess of 150 mm over four to five hours. Even greater amounts were unofficially recorded in Bracebridge - some 275 mm - more rain than Hurricane Hazel yielded in 1954.
Southern Manitoba also had a few gully washers. The biggest deluge occurred on July 7, when a torrential downpour dumped a month's worth of rain, between 75 and 110 mm, in just a few hours. The flooding affected forty-four municipalities. Thousands of Winnipeg residents had to bail out flooded basements and rescue submerged cars when sewers could not keep pace with the rainfall intensity. The water level in the Red River gushed three metres above normal - a record for the summer. Disaster assistance claims from homeowners far exceeded the $9 million in relief moneys the government had set aside following the storm.
4. January Storm Surge Wallops Atlantic Canada
Maritimers called it another "storm of the century". One of the wildest winter storms in years slammed into Atlantic Canada on January 21. In little more than a day, the explosive, weather "beast" raced from the American Carolinas towards Nova Scotia. Forecasters warned the public against a litany of weather misery - blizzards, heavy snow, intense rains, hurricane-force winds, storm surges and coastal flooding.
The blizzard, the second in five days, dumped up to 54 cm of snow in parts of Nova Scotia and PEI. But it was water - not the white stuff - that caused most problems. In Charlottetown, fierce winds and the highest tides of the season caused harbour water to surge ashore, prompting frenzied city workers to build snow banks to contain the rising sea water. The surging wall of water affected virtually the entire coastal area of the province, collapsing wharves, flooding homes and businesses, and moving cottages. In one bizarre incident, two cottages at Tatamagouche Bay, Nova Scotia, were lifted, turned around, and deposited hundreds of metres down the beach without even knocking over bottles.
The storm also brought the largest wave to strike Newfoundland since the 1929 tsunami in the Burin Peninsula that killed 27 people. The freak rogue wave was 15 to 18 metres high and moved at a speed of 90 to 110 km/h. The powerful winds rocked buildings back and forth. No lives were lost, but the storm caused several millions of dollars in damages across Atlantic Canada.
5. Great Lakes Levels - How Low Will They Go?
Three months of "monsoonal " wet in the Great Lakes Basin was not going to undo three years of warm-weather drought. All the lakes except Lake Ontario are rapidly shrinking. The water levels have fallen further and faster than almost any time in the 20th Century.
The heavy rainfall in spring and early summer caused a temporary pause in the decline of levels on Superior and Michigan-Huron, water levels on the upper lakes continued to decline in 2000. Lakes Michigan-Huron were one metre lower than three years ago and the lowest since 1964. Superior was at its lowest level since 1925. Lakes Erie and Ontario experienced a reprieve in their declines; however, scanty rains in the fall dropped year-end levels close to their low marks of a year ago. There is more reason for concern about the potential for low levels continuing in 2001 than there was a year ago.
Depressed water levels were a hardship for recreational boaters. Several marinas undertook dredging to accommodate their clientele, while many owners of private docks were left high and dry. Commercial navigation also found this year to be a challenge, necessitating reduced loads to avoid running aground. Hydroelectric generation at Niagara Falls during the first half of 2000 was significantly reduced from the previous year, and the same was true at Sault Ste. Marie during the last half of 2000.
6. More Weather Woes Down On The Farm
Once again, Canadian farmers had a tough year. Another mild winter failed to kill off bothersome diseases and insects. And going into the growing season, most farmers were concerned by the lack of winter precipitation in recharging soil moisture and other water reserves. Then, a spring "monsoon" especially in central Canada, soaked the land and washed away seeds and plants, and generally delayed the growing season by two or three weeks. The wet conditions also created an ideal breeding ground for insects and diseases like stem rot and blight. Virtually every major crop was affected by some type of virus, bacteria or fungi. Farmers everywhere became desperate for sunshine and growing heat units. In southern Quebec, sunshine between May and August totalled 1,000 hours, compared to the normal of 1,173. Then came the threat of frost and untimely harvest rains. Across the Maritimes and in southern Manitoba, wet conditions in September and October prevented farmers from completing the harvest on time.
The excessive moisture and disease not only reduced yields, but they also reduced the quality of most of the crop. With yields down by 20 to 30%, twice the number of Quebec farmers made insurance claims for crop losses in 2000 compared to last year. Grain corn producers in Ontario and Quebec had a disappointing year despite a record planted acreage. Production was 15% less than last year. Some farmers gave up planting and returned their seed; some growers resorted to chopping up hay and blowing it back on the field because it was worth more as fertilizer than feed.
Ranchers and farmers in southern Alberta faced some of the driest weather in memory. At Lethbridge, ranchers are used to over 200 mm of rain between May and August. This year a meager 68 mm fell at that time. For old-time residents, it was the worst drought since 1918 - even the 1930s weren't as dry as it was in 2000.
There was some good news. Statistics Canada reported that Canadian farmers produced a record amount of field peas and near-record amounts of durum wheat.
7. Flash Flood Drowns Saskatchewan Town
There is a certain irony about one of the driest places getting the greatest rainfall, and yet that is exactly what happened at usually rain-sparse Vanguard, Saskatchewan on July 3 when a carwash-like downpour flooded the community of 200 people, some 65 km southeast of Swift Current. As much as 375 mm of rain fell in eight hours, the greatest storm for that duration on the Canadian Prairies and one of the largest rainfall intensities ever recorded in Canada.
The spectacular thunderstorm produced more cloud-to-ground lightning strikes than that part of southern Saskatchewan would expect in two years. A year's amount of rain left crops in the field drowning and rotting, and roads and rail-lines under water. The force of the water crushed cars and farm implements, swept away grain bins and soaked large bales. Stranded residents had to be rescued by boat, which rapidly became the carrier of choice on the main street in Vanguard. The flash flood also carried away herds of cattle and drowned dozens of deer and antelope. Some further irony, when millions of litres of contaminated water submerged the water-treatment plant and backed up into homes and businesses, officials had to ship in bottled water from Swift Current.
8. Hurricane Michael and November Gloom
Forecasters predicted another active hurricane season in the North Atlantic Ocean. In the end, there were 14 named storms; eight of them became hurricanes; and three of those were major. The year continued what has become the most active six consecutive years of tropical storms in a century. The most significant hurricane for Canada was Hurricane Michael which tore into southern Newfoundland late on October 19. It was only the second full-fledged hurricane to make landfall in Canada in 25 years, the last one being Hortense in 1996. Michael packed very strong winds with gusts to 172 km/h at St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. Surprisingly, there were few reports of damage apart from rattled windows and ripped siding. The high-speed motion of the weather system kept rainfall totals below 50 mm.
A storm just before Halloween heralded the beginning of the longest spell of dreary weather and sunless skies that residents of Atlantic Canada could ever remember. St. John's, Charlottetown, Sydney and Greenwood all set records for continuously overcast skies, between 400 and 500 hours, after a low pressure system anchored south of Nova Scotia refused to budge. On Cape Breton Island, the gloomy skies weren't the only problem for a weather-fatigued populace. With 19 straight days of what seemed an eternal rain, totalling nearly 400 mm and over a span that included several daily rainfall records, waterlogged residents faced flooded basements, sewer back-ups, washed-out roads, sinkholes, and stalled engines. Damage caused by the flood exceeded $3 million. The stalled system was not unusual, just the length of the spell. But what made the situation doubly depressing was that it robbed Maritimers of arguably the best time of the year - their glorious fall.
9. First Winter of the Millennium - Soft and Short
The winter was mild across Canada - the fourth in a row and the fourth warmest in over half a century. The most striking thing about winter was its short duration - only five weeks not five months. For most, it was perfectly packaged from mid-January to late February. In Vancouver, there was not a day when the temperature failed to rise above freezing. Never has there been a warmer February temperature in Ontario than the 20.4°C in Windsor on the 26th. It was warmer in Ottawa than in Reno and Jerusalem. The next day Montreal's 11°C shattered all previous records in the city and Sherbrooke's 15°C set a province-wide record for February. Mild temperatures saved businesses and homeowners millions of dollars they didn't have to spend on heating fuel, with customers paying about 10% less than expected.
There was less snow too! Most cities in southern Canada had about 80% of their normal winter accumulation. For Edmonton, it was the sunniest winter ever in 81 years and no day had snowfall more than a measly 5 cm. Victoria and Vancouver had only four days with a measurable snowfall and a seasonal accumulation of less than 1/3 of their normal snowfall. In Ontario, only one major winter storm occurred - a slow-moving Valentine's Day storm blanketed the southern part of the province with 20 cm of snow. Treacherous roads created gridlock from Hamilton to Ottawa, but couldn't stop a massive outdoor wedding ceremony in Niagara Falls when 200 couples renewed their vows for the new millennium.
For cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, it was hard to imagine a worse winter. There was no spring skiing. Most lake ice was less than 12 cm thick - the minimum thickness recommended for snowmobile travel. Snow carnivals had to make or import snow. As expected, the unseasonable weather played havoc with retail sales, but golf courses across southern Canada had their earliest opening ever.
10. Early Start to Winter 2000-2001
Across Canada, the first tastes of winter occurred three weeks before the official start of the season. On December 1, an early winter storm swept across eastern Newfoundland. St. John's got close to 56 cm, along with 90 km/h winds. Thousands of customers were left without power. During the first week of December, a "polar pig" or Arctic outbreak squealed into western and central Canada bringing Alberta its coldest temperatures in about three years. The deepest freeze occurred in the Northwest Territories, where Fort Simpson recorded a low of -43°C. In Northern Manitoba, the bitter cold combined with strong winds to produce a ferocious blizzard and wind chills below -70°C. With the sudden onslaught of winter, residents, who were already paying up to 60% more for natural gas and heating oil than last year, cranked up their thermostats, consuming 50% more energy than the same time last year.
A mammoth storm struck Ontario and Quebec on December 11-12, dumping between 20 and 50 cm of snow. Two days later, a second storm left residents digging out from knee-deep drifts. The weather didn't bring the troops to Toronto, but it did cause traffic gridlock and the greatest number of flight cancellations in almost two years. It was an evening rush-hour mess in the Greater Toronto Area and similar road havoc the next morning in Ottawa and Montreal. Three-quarters of the flights into and out of the three cities were cancelled. Schools, shops and services closed from Windsor to Quebec City. In Sarnia the week's heavy snow of between 50 to 60 cm with monstrous drifts caused the roof of a store to collapse, killing an employee. The storm continued eastward bringing deep snows to northern New Brunswick and heavy rains and strong winds to the rest of the Maritimes. Power outages throughout the region were common, and traffic was halted on the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. By the end of the week, winter's clutches had reached British Columbia. Up to 15 cm of snow blanketed some Vancouver suburbs and gale-force winds knocked down power lines in the Lower Mainland and on southern Vancouver Island, cutting power to 100,000 customers. The storm then turned into a fierce blizzard as it swept eastward across the Prairies.
All this and the first day of winter was still a week away.
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