Top ten weather stories for 2006: story three

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3. Big Blows in Central Canada

While the summer was to the liking of most Ontarians, it was not without its powerful killer storms. In total, 23 tornadoes struck the province - more than the normal 14. But it was three big summer wind blows that created unprecedented havoc across Ontario and western Quebec.

On July 17, 2006, a series of powerful storms ripped from Manitoulin Island to North Bay and Mattawa, then on to Deep River and into Quebec. The hot,moist air mass that had been baking residents for days lifted as a cold front approached. The atmosphere exploded, firing off a myriad of wild winds - funnel clouds, straight-line winds, microbursts and tornadoes. The fast-moving, well-organized storm dealt a large swath of damage nearly 400 km long. While intermittent, a Warning Preparedness Meteorologist in Ontario stated the storm tract was one of the longest in Ontario's history. The storms scythed across the province, splintering trees, snapping hydro poles and downing power lines. The combination of strong winds, lashing rain and thousands of lightning strikes left many communities in chaos, prompting several municipal leaders to declare states of emergency. At the end, two people had been killed and 250,000 people were without power. The region around North Bay, Callander and Mattawa was hit the hardest. North of Toronto in Newmarket, two tornadoes packing winds up to 180 km/h did considerable damage to a factory and an apartment roof, and carried fencing more than 200 metres. Over all, though, it was hydro outages that caused most of the grief across Ontario. High-voltage circuits were downed and electricity poles snapped like twigs. Numerous transformer stations were also damaged. More than 800 hydro workers were involved in the restoration effort and, according to the provincially-owned utility Hydro One, this series of storms inflicted the worst damage to the provincial power grid since the 1998 ice storm.

Heading to Quebec, the storm continued to wreak havoc causing major flooding and significant property damage from Abitibi to Quebec City. The Abitibi-Temiscamingue region received between 40 and 50 mm of rain and wind gusts between 90 and 120 km/h. The powerful winds uprooted trees, overturned boats and took down telephone poles. Thousands of people lost power and/ or had their basements fill with water. Around the Saint-Honoré area, torrential rains were responsible for a landslide. Most areas in western Quebec experienced a combination of 50 mm of rain, 2-cm diameter hail or wind gusts reaching up to 120 km/h.

Back in Ontario, a second major storm hop-scotched through hundreds of kilometres of cottage country on August 2-3 leaving properties once again in shambles. At Combermere, north of Bancroft, an F2 category tornado packing winds between 180 km/h to 240 km/h inflicted extensive damage. Its twisting winds tossed docks on shore and pushed cottages off their foundations. Once-towering, century-old pines were reduced to stumps and de-barked. In Gravenhurst, the storm peeled back the roof of the local curling rink. It was a miracle that no one was killed or seriously injured. Environment Canada confirmed that the weather system on August 2 triggered 17 tornadoes, including two F2 touchdowns. It was the highest number of tornadoes for a single event ever in the province and represented what Ontario normally sees in one year.

Hydro One and the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated that the two big summer storms cost nearly $100 million. The storms left hundreds of thousands of residents without power for five days and whole sections of the electrical grid needed reconstruction. Over 1,000 poles and more than 200 transformers had to be replaced.

The August 2 storm once again crossed into Quebec, raging from Abitibi to Estrie. Violent wind gusts between 85 and 110 km/h felled tracts of trees, leaving more than 450,000 people without electricity - some for more than 4 days. Total storm rainfall exceeded 100 mm at several localities. The thunderstorms caused two deaths: one in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, in the Maurice region, when a man was struck by lightning and another in Montreal when a tree fell on a vehicle.

On September 23-24, a third major storm left more than 90,000 Hydro One customers without power in the Georgian Bay area. More than half were still in the dark four days later. Like previous storms that summer, this one also inflicted damages and outages in Quebec. Gusts peaked at 93 km/h in Montreal, knocking down trees, damaging buildings and leaving as many as 100,000 Hydro-Quebec customers without power for several hours.

1 - Please note that after this summary was published, Environment Canada research meteorologists revealed that the actual number of tornados for August 2, 2006 was 17 not 14.

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