Top ten weather stories for 2005: story five

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5. Year of the Hurricane…But Not in Canada

Forecasters predicted another active Atlantic hurricane season, but hyperactive was more like it! The final tally was 26 tropical storms and 14 hurricanes - both new all-time records - with two years' worth of storms in one. The busy storm season reflected a continuation of above-normal activity that began in 1995. Since then, all but two Atlantic hurricane seasons (1997 and 2002) have been stormier than normal. In 2005, more than half the storms ventured into the western Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico where sea surface temperatures were at their second warmest since 1982 when satellites were first used to observe water temperatures.

Among the hurricane highlights in 2005:

  • 26 tropical storms from Arlene to Wilma and from Alpha to Epsilon. The previous busiest storm season on record was in 1933 with 21 storms.
  • 14 Atlantic hurricanes eclipsed the previous record of 12 in 1969.
  • A record of three Category 5 hurricanes - Katrina, Rita and Wilma - with sustained wind speeds in excess of 250 km/h.
  • Hurricane Wilma was the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, with a central air pressure falling to 882 mb. Its $10 billion price tag made it the third costliest storm on record.
  • Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma claimed 1,500 lives between them, with Katrina being one of the deadliest in USA history.
  • Costs from Katrina totalled $125 billion (CDN), of which $40 billion was insured, making it by far the costliest weather disaster in world history.

Among factors contributing to the active hurricane season were: a continuation of super-heated ocean waters across the tropical Atlantic; higher ocean heat content; favourable winds and an upper air circulation that encouraged easterly winds; stagnant atmospheric circulation favouring an earlier start; strong winds off North Africa pushing more storms across the Atlantic Ocean; and an absence of shearing trade winds that would rip apart developing storms.

Unlike 2004 - when the season began slowly, grew to record activity and died as quickly as it began - 2005 began quickly and stayed active right to the end and beyond. While a record number of tropical storms swirled their way through the North Atlantic, surprisingly, few of them headed northward into Canada and none had nearly the impact of those in the United States and the Caribbean.

At the end of August, the remnants of Katrina tracked parallel to the axis of the Lower Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River drenching a narrow swath of southern Ontario from Long Point to near Hamilton with 100 mm of rain. In Quebec, the remains of Katrina brought between 80 and 100 mm of rain to the Basse-Cote-Nord region. Flooding was reported from overflowing rivers and washed out culverts in Charlesbourg and Vanier. On August 31, several daily rainfall records were set, including 73.8 mm at Montreal's P.E. Trudeau Airport - its wettest single day in August - and 73.9 mm at Quebec City, which became its new record for the wettest August day.

On September 17, the remains of Tropical Storm Ophelia brought foul weather to parts of the Nova Scotian mainland, before racing to Newfoundland the next day. Winds gusted up to 96 km/h and rainfall amounts ranged between 70 and 100 mm in thunderstorms. Waves as high as 11 m were reported at a buoy off Nova Scotia. Later, on September 26, the remains of Hurricane Rita merged with a low pressure system that crossed Quebec. Record-breaking rainfalls fell north of Montreal and in Quebec City. The greatest one-day rainfall was at Deschambault with 124.4 mm. On October 26, Hurricane Wilma's remnant low passed south of Sable Island, Nova Scotia where it was absorbed by a massive system off the continent. The hybrid storm generated moderate rainfall amounts of 30 to 50 mm. Generally, the nastiest weather occurred out at sea (e.g. waves built to nine metres.) High winds gusted to 125 km/h in communities on Cape Breton Island and the storm caused flooding problems around Sydney. Rough seas occurred along the Atlantic coasts of Nova Scotia and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence but there was little coastal flooding. The storm moved too fast to build the seas over a long fetch.

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