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Canada's top ten weather stories of 2014

A year in review - 2014 weather stories

Temperature was a recurring theme in 2014, but unlike recent years, the top story was on the long, intense, bout of winter cold across the country.
Read the full story

Top ten weather stories

1. Canada’s Long Cold Winter

1. Canada's Long Cold Winter

Canada’s reputation as the second coldest country was reaffirmed in winter 2013-14 with most of us shivering our way through a very long, cold winter.
Read the full story.

 

2. Summer Flooding in the Eastern Prairies

2. Summer Flooding in the Eastern Prairies

Water problems prevailed across the eastern Prairies just a week before summer began. Excessive rains on soggy ground − too much rain too fast over too many days – led to yet another year with huge flooding.

Read the full story.

3. Wildfires in the West and Northwest

3. Wildfires in the West and Northwest

Even with parts of Canada being, at times, soaked by heavy rains, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia made up for it all with exceptional warmth and dryness that brought sparks to infernos in no time flat.
Read the full story.

4. The Nightmare Before, During and After Christmas

4. The Nightmare Before, During and After Christmas

The weekend before Christmas 2013 a vigorous winter storm coated parts of eastern Canada with a thick cocktail of snow, ice pellets, rain and freezing rain that plunged large parts of the region into days of cold and darkness.
Read the full story.

5. Summer – Hot on the Coasts, Cool in the Centre

5. Summer – Hot on the Coasts, Cool in the Centre

After enduring one of the harshest winters in recent memory, Canadians figured Mother Nature owed them a break. For some, their prayers were answered but for others, it was yet another seasonal letdown.
Read the full story.

6. Hurricane Arthur and Others

6. Hurricane Arthur and Others

The season’s first hurricane, Arthur, came relatively early for a significant hurricane, while Gonzalo, the last hurricane, marked an early end to the season. Both storms were the most punishing ones of 2014 in Atlantic Canada.
Read the full story.

7. Airdrie to Calgary Hailer

7. Airdrie to Calgary Hailer

The Prairies were hit harder by hail than any other severe weather this past summer with the biggest wallop on August 8.
Read the full story.

8. Powerful December Storms on West and East Coasts

8. Powerful December Storms on West and East Coasts

During the second week of December, millions of Canadians from the West Coast, Central Canada and the Maritimes were bombarded by intense pre-winter storms featuring strong winds, drenching rains, flooding and heavy snowfalls.
Read the full story.

9. Angus Tornado

9. Angus Tornado

An Enhanced Fujita Scale 2 tornado struck Angus, Ontario just before the dinner hour on June 17, with winds damaging up to 100 homes.
Read the full story.

 

10. “Snowtember” in Calgary

10. “Snowtember” in Calgary

Snow in September is not rare in Calgary but even longtime Calgarians were shocked when – in the midst of a sunny 25°C afternoon – they learned the next day’s forecast called for freezing temperatures and upwards of 10 cm of snow.
Read the full story.

Runner-up stories for 2014

Regional highlights

Atlantic Canada

Quebec

Ontario

Prairie Provinces

British Columbia

The North

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A Year in Review - 2014

Temperature was a recurring theme in Canada’s top weather events in 2014, but unlike recent years, it was intense and long bouts of cold causing frozen ground, thick ice and a deep snow pack that drew our attention. Nearly everyone could relate to this year’s top weather story – Canada’s long, cold winter – but for the vast majority, the cold was year-round with no season offering warmer than normal temperatures. It was a cold that even spring and summer couldn’t beat back. Stick a thermometer into Canada and it read a measly +0.1°C above normal – the coldest year since 1996 and certainly out of step with the planet, which was on target to being the hottest year since modern records began in 1880. As a result of Canada’s trend-bucking cold, the Great Lakes attained 92 per cent ice coverage for the first time in 35 years, with ice still present in June. On the East Coast sea ice was back, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence sea ice thicknesses in March were the greatest in over 25 years and 10 per cent more than average. Months without a serious thaw left most Canadians begging for spring. But if April is the cruelest month, spring might have been the cruelest season ever this year. Desperate Canadians said they had forgotten what a warm day felt like and were looking forward to their first mosquito or smog day – two sure signs of warmth that failed to materialize. A disappointing spring was followed by a second-rate summer for the nearly two-thirds of Canadians living in central Canada. The substandard season featured chilly air, ice-cold waters and too many wet days. 

Those in the western Northwest Territories and British Columbia were much more fortunate. In coastal BC, it was the summer of summers; the third-warmest summer in 67 years of record-keeping and one of the top ten driest. The only downside was that forest fires were often out of control  in the western Northwest Territories, seven times the normal acreage was ablaze − a record for the region. So intense were the fires that smoke spiraled high above Yellowknife and traveled all the way to Portugal, while the flames bred whirls and firenadoes. In British Columbia, fires caused the third biggest loss of timber in the province in 60 years of record-keeping and firefighting costs soared four times over budget.   

Another recurrent theme in recent years has been menacing floods. In 2014, flooding made the list again as  biblical-sized deluges in the eastern Prairies, initiated by copious rains over three days in mid-June, resulted in one of Canada’s few billion-dollar disasters. Also in the costly weather stories category was a storm just before Christmas 2013 that lingered well into 2014 because its impacts were still being tallied a year later. Insurance claims reached a quarter of a billion dollars when snow, ice pellets, rain and freezing rain plunged parts of central and eastern Canada into days of cold and darkness. Ontario government payouts alone exceeded $200 million and counting, while the cleanup of branches and debris continued throughout the year.

An accurate count of tornadoes is never possible across Canada, but 45 confirmed and possible tornadoes were noted in 2014, which was fewer than normal. All were weak and short-lived except for one in Angus, Ontario that resulted in $30 million in insurance claims. Based on the past five years, no list of significant weather events in Canada would be complete without mentioning Calgary. In 2014, Calgary made the list again; not once but twice. On August 8, a half-billion-dollar hailer pummelled most of Airdrie, Alberta and areas south to Calgary. A month later, the city experienced a surprising summer snowfall that brought down thousands of trees.

In a region that is no stranger to storms, Atlantic Canada got more than its share of nasty hurricanes, nor’easters and big blows this year. Interestingly, there was no reprieve from wicked weather as every season featured at least one big weather event: winter featured crippling storms in early January; the beginnings of spring brought a nasty April Fool’s Day storm that dashed hopes for a warm-up; hurricane season started in summer with Arthur and other named storms making an appearance; and the last two months of the year brought four nasty fall storms that included two powerful nor’easters. The impact on New Brunswick Power was indicative of the widespread fallout felt across the region from four seasons of violent storms. The provincial utility had one of its most disruptive and expensive years on record with seven major storms in less than a year knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homeowners and businesses with costs of more than $40 million.

Among the other weather highlights in 2014 were Prairie and Ontario farmers being faced with challenging weather during growing and harvesting seasons that included floods, heavy and untimely rains, frozen ground, cold weather, harvest frosts and even summer snows in Alberta. In parts of the North it was the coldest year in 17 years. As a result, September sea ice concentrations grew 1.6 million square km above the record minimum of two years ago. Further south, it was another wet year in the Great Lakes – almost 10 per cent above normal – which meant a continuation of the remarkable rebound in Great Lakes water levels in 2013 and 2014. 

On the same week in mid-December powerful storms lashed both coasts of Canada with drenching rains and fierce winds.  Flooding, washouts and power outages occurred along coastal British Columbia from a series of storms hours apart, whereas it was a single, slow-moving nor’easter that inflicted extensive damages in the Maritimes and into Quebec and Ontario.  Ironically, at the same time residents on the Prairies basked in record warm temperatures which was a welcome respite from usual December weather.

The following top Canadian weather stories for 2014 are ranked from one to ten based on factors that include the impact they had on Canada and Canadians, the extent of the area affected, economic effects and longevity as a top news story:

Top ten weather stories

  1. Canada’s Long Cold Winter
  2. Summer Flooding in the Eastern Prairies
  3. Wildfires in the West and Northwest
  4. The Nightmare Before, During and After Christmas (2013)
  5. Summer – Hot on the Coasts, Cool in the Centre
  6. Hurricane Arthur and Others
  7. Airdrie to Calgary Hailer
  8. Powerful December Storms on West and East Coasts
  9. Angus Tornado
  10. “Snowtember” in Calgary

Runner-up stories for 2014

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1. Canada’s Long Cold Winter

Following several mild winters, Canada’s reputation as the second coldest country next to Russia was reaffirmed in winter 2013-14. While attimes British Columbia and the Yukon were basking in balmy breezes and sunny skies, the rest of us were shivering our way through the coldest winter in 18 years and the third coldest in 35 years. That devilish polar vortex – a circulation of frigid, dense Arctic air − moved much farther south than normal, freezing the heart of North America from Tuktoyaktuk to Toronto to Tallahassee. At the same time, weather systems from the Pacific that help push cold lows back to the north or across to Siberia were scarce. The intensity of the cold was remarkable, but it was its duration that brought us to our knees. In most parts of the country winter came to town early and wouldn’t leave, staying from Halloween to beyond Easter. And while January did have a thaw, it was feeble and lasted hours not days or weeks. For millions of Canadians from Windsor to Quebec City, the “normal” winter period from December to February was the eighth coldest ever recorded. Even more revealing, the five months between November and March inclusive were the coldest since the start of national record-keeping in 1948.

Snowy forest.

©Environment Canada

And we didn’t just feel it; we were surrounded by it in the form of record snowfalls, crippling ice storms and lingering snow cover. Snowfall records were set in Windsor, Calgary, Red Deer, Kenora and a handful of other cities across Canada. In Saskatoon, there was snow on the ground for six months – likely the longest period with continuous snow cover since 1955 when record-keeping began.

The following is a sampling of how cold and snowy it was:

  • According to weather data logged by NASA’s Curiosity Rover, residents between Regina and Rouyn woke up some mornings to temperatures colder than those on Mars.
  • On January 7 at 2:00 p.m., Canada’s most southerly city, Windsor, was -17.4°C – 10 degrees colderthan Canada’s most northerly city, Iqaluit.
  • On New Year’s Day, Ottawa went from slushy puddles and melting temperatures to -23°C in fewer than 24 hours. But the city’s brutal cold had nothing on locations in Quebec, where the wind chill hit an unbearable -56 at Fermont and Normandin and exposed flesh could freeze in under two minutes. Just two days later, at Lac Benoit, the temperature dipped to a low of -47.4°C.
  • February 26 was Hamilton’s 47th day under a cold alert, the identical number of cold alert days for the city over the past three winters combined.
  • Freezing-degree days below 0°C were 15 per cent higher than average over southern Ontario and Quebec, which explains the unusually thick river and lake ice.
  • Toronto experienced its c-cc-coldest winter in 20 years, which prompted the public health office to issue 36 extreme cold alerts compared to nine the previous year. Further, the city had snow on the ground for more than 100 consecutive days on top of a layer of pre-Christmas freezing rain.
  • Kenora’s winter was the coldest and snowiest since 1938 when record-keeping began, while Kitchener-Waterloo logged 25 days below -20°C; normal is 6.
  • Nobody had it worse than Winnipeg, arguably the coldest big city in Canada. No one alive can say they’ve lived it colder there as residents survived the coldest December to March, inclusive, since 1898 – long before urban heat islands, automobiles, heavy industry and long before global warming. Temperatures averaged -20°C when the normal average is -14.3°C, and there were 30 raw days when the temperature dropped below -30°C versus a typical average of 12. Adding to the misery, the city received an abnormally large amount of snow. The 155 cm that fell was well above the average of 100 cm and the most the city had received since the winter of 1996-97 – enough to bust the myth that it’s ever too cold to snow!  The only good news was that the cold and snow were so dry it helped minimize the spring flood risk.

Removing snow from car.

©Environment Canada

The bone-chilling, teeth-chattering weather and lasting snow had a host of negative impacts. A shortage of road salt in parts of central Canada had suppliers scrambling to find extra supplies, and consumers of propane and natural gas fumed at skyrocketing prices. The frigid weather caused record levels of power consumption as customers cranked up the thermostat to beat back the cold, and home and business owners faced up to 20 per cent billing increases. Frequent blackouts just made things worse. For the homeless, the bitter cold made a hard life harder. Hospitals were pushed to handle more cases of frostbite, hypothermia and falls from icy sidewalks and streets, and Canadian Blood Services reported a significant decline in donor numbers. The winter’s duration and difficulty also led to increased reports of depression and anxiety. At times, the intense cold created transportation nightmares. Towing companies couldn’t keep up with the calls, with waits for roadside service typically reaching five hours or more for low-priority calls. Extreme cold also caused air travel chaos when Canada’s biggest airport, Toronto’s Pearson International, shut down causing serious ripple effects for aviation across the country.

Running on icy road.

©Environment Canada

For plumbers, things couldn’t have been busier as they scrambled to thaw frozen hydrants, ruptured pipes and broken sprinklers. Homeowners flooded city hot lines, complaining about burst water pipes and frozen toilets. Some residents in Winnipeg lost water for months as persistently cold temperatures froze the ground one or two metres below the surface. The city incurred the highest number of frozen water pipes in more than 35 years. Hundreds of pipes also froze in Thunder Bay and Kenora, leading the latter to issue a citywide boil-water advisory. Frozen pipes, along with big snowfalls and biting wind chills, also contributed to school snow days and event cancellations becoming regular occurrences across eastern Canada.

Ice on the river.

©Environment Canada

Brutal winter conditions also took their toll on plants and animals. Winterkill was especially severe across the board with damage to golf courses costing millions of dollars in lost business and repairs. Ontario’s wine industry lost millions of dollars after cold killed 60 to 95 per cent of the grape buds. In some communities, biologists reported a record loss of trees and ornamental shrubs from winterkill, salt damage or wind desiccation. On the farm, extreme cold meant that cattle had to eat even more just to stay warm. Bee farmers reported losses in their hives as high as 50 per cent over the past winter. The severe cold and deep snow also contributed to a decline in deer populations, while brown bats literally dropped and died from the biting cold.

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2. Summer Flooding in the Eastern Prairies

For the past several years, flooding has been the big story across the Prairie provinces. In 2005, torrential rains produced summer flooding. In 2011, it was the combination of snowmelt and ice jamming that created a massive billion-dollar disaster across Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Last year, the coincidence of rapid snowmelt and heavy spring rains in southern Alberta generated the most disruptive, destructive and expensive flood in Canadian history – a $6 billion flood of floods. Unfortunately, anyone looking for a break in 2014 was sorely disappointed. This time water problems prevailed across the eastern Prairies just a week before summer began. Excessive rains on soggy ground − too much rain too fast over too many days – led to huge flooding and another billion-dollar disaster.

Overflowing river.

©Environment Canada

On June 15, two major slow-moving weather systems, hours apart and more typical of spring or fall, combined to bring a few soggy days to the eastern Prairies. The prolonged moisture-laden storms moved up from the northern United States and stalled near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border. Relentless rains turned into biblical-sized deluges over three days. Almost a year’s worth of rain fell in some places. Prior to the soaking, three weeks of wet weather meant that the latest rains had nowhere to go but overland. With soil saturated and ditches filled, the water cascaded into channels that rapidly fed into creeks and rivers.

Excess precipitation in the days and weeks leading up to July 1 included:

  • The third wettest spring on record dating back to 1892 for Saskatoon. Total spring (April to June) precipitation was 230 mm or 175 per cent of normal.
  • Yorkton had 252 mm of rain in June, which was more than triple the normal accumulation and the wettest ever since 1884 when record-keeping began. Nine days in June had more than 10 mm (normal is 2 days) and spring rainfall totalled 357 mm – another record.
  • With observations at Brandon dating back to the 1890s, June 2014 was the wettest month ever with 252 mm – three times June’s normal total and, incredibly, 34 mm higher than the all-time previous wettest month of August 1980. June had four days with rainfall over 25 mm, including 75 mm on June 19, and three days in a row on the final weekend of the month – all on top of it being Brandon’s wettest spring on record.
  • One Regina weather site recorded 198 mm of rain in June, which is nearly triple the normal of 70 mm and almost the wettest month on record.  Total April-to-June rainfall was 312 mm or 216 per cent of normal, and the second wettest such period with records dating back to 1883.
  • To the far west, Lethbridge recorded its wettest June and wettest month ever with 280 mm of rain, which is more rain than the city gets in an average year.

Overflowing river.

©Environment Canada

Rains and subsequent flooding at the end of June forced the closure of a hundred highways, including a stretch of the TransCanada east of Regina where dozens of bridges, culverts and utilities were washed away and dozens of basements were filled. Sections of country roads were under water for days on end. The rains also led to record flows on 17 southern Manitoba rivers and streams. Nearly 100 communities, including the cities of Melville and Yorkton in Saskatchewan, declared states of emergency. Citizen volunteers and a thousand military reservists scrambled to fill hundreds of thousands of sandbags to fend off rising floodwaters. Some 1,000 residents, mainly in southwestern Manitoba, were displaced and faced mucky basements and debris-strewn yards on their return home.

Overflowing river.

©Environment Canada

Flooded pastures resembled rice paddies and crop fields featured lakes with whitecaps, leaving some of the best farmland in Canada too soggy to farm. Farmers feared losing their growing season altogether. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, well over one million acres of seeded fields were flooded or drowned and another two million were left unseeded. As much as six million acres of farmland in the west were damaged, drowned or lying on still-frozen ground. Even though some crops recovered from flooding, their high yields suffered. Total costs from flooding exceeded $1 billion as farmers lost crops and communities mopped up. Weeks later, waves of mosquitoes emerged from the sodden ground and standing waters. Hardship was especially prevalent in several First Nations communities where flooding is becoming a ritual that brings both emotional and physical health issues.

The seeds of this summer’s flood started in the fall of 2013, when already saturated soils, combined with high over-winter snowfall covered the eastern Prairies. It was magnified by an exceptionally hard winter with a deep snowpack and a late spring melt that kept soils saturated and potholes filled. Another factor leading to worsening Prairie flooding in recent years that has been brought to light by expert hydrometeorologists is altered drainage patterns on agricultural lands in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the greater incidence of multi-day rainfalls. Storm rainfalls over larger areas are lasting longer than usual. The network of Prairie potholes and sloughs has already filled to the brim, and now the runoffs are moving overland in a “fill and spill process” that is ripping out roads, inundating homes and overwhelming sewer networks. Ducks Unlimited said that wetland drainage on the Prairies has increased average flows by more than 60 per cent, and a study by the University of Saskatchewan found changes in wetland drainage over 50 years increased recent flood peaks by as much as 32 per cent.

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3. Wildfires in the West and Northwest

While conditions were not favourable for wildfires in most areas of the country in 2014, it was still a huge wildfire year in Canada. According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, although the absolute number of wildland fires was 10 per cent less than the 20-year average, the area burned was three times higher than the 20-year national average (4.6 million hectares vs. the normal 1.5 million hectares). So even with parts of Canada being, at times, soaked by heavy rains or underwater from floods, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia made up for it all with exceptional warmth and dryness that brought sparks to infernos in no time flat.

Smoke in the sky.

©Environment Canada

In the Northwest Territories it started with a cold winter and scanty snows that left the ground and forest litter dry. With summer came clear skies and record warm temperatures that optimized already perfect conditions for fires to spread. The principal culprit was a stalled ridge of drying air anchored over the Mackenzie River valley for weeks. Temperatures from Tuktoyaktuk to Yellowknife averaged well above historic averages. The Mackenzie region averaged 1.6°C warmer than normal – the seventh warmest summer in 67 years. Yellowknife had 22 days in June and July at or above 25°C, compared to an average of eight, and only two days in June and three in July with rain. In a 91-day span, from the May long-weekend onwards, Yellowknife received only one-half its normal rainfall. As further evidence of the dryness, water levels in the Mackenzie River dropped to some of the lowest seen in more than 30 years. So it was no surprise to anyone that the Northwest Territories had its worst fire season in 30 years with nearly 3.4 million hectares razed. That’s seven times the normal acreage consumed and six times the size of Prince Edward Island. At the peak of the fire season, smoke, ash and moisture from intense fires travelled as high as 15 km in the air, easily circling the globe. Some plumes travelled south and east affecting air quality in the northern plains of the United States, the Canadian Maritimes and even as far as Portugal. The fires caused a host of problems, including highway closures due to reduced visibility, the destruction of fibre optic cables and the interruption of Yellowknife’s main power supply line. Health risks were also a concern as the city’s hospital treated twice the usual number of patients for respiratory and allergy issues. Smoke was so thick that, at times, it was hard to breathe indoors with the windows closed let alone venturing outside. Widespread forest fires also stranded visitors and adversely affected busy tourist camps and attractions. In August, firefighters and residents finally got a breather when cooler and wetter weather took hold. Temperatures dropped significantly and rainfall was 50 per cent more than normal for the month.

Forest fire burning.

©Environment Canada

In British Columbia, an overheated wildfire season scorched the third-biggest loss of timber in the province since authorities began recording wildfire statistics more than 60 years ago. Fires burned more than 338,000 hectares through the province – seven and a half times the normal area charred on average over 20 years. No homes or notable structures were destroyed, but the province more than quadrupled its firefighting budget, spending $266 million. Conditions for the wildfire season started in 2013 when places like Victoria experienced their driest October-to-December on record. Summer perfected conditions for igniting and spreading wildfires as average temperature across coastal and southern portions of the province made for the third-warmest summer over 67 years of record-keeping and one of the top ten driest summers. Record-high July maximum temperatures soared into the low 40s in several interior communities. Some places claimed it was the driest summer in more than half a century. Among the major fires were those that burned in vast dead pine forests killed by mountain pine beetles or on steep, inaccessible terrain, increasing risks and challenges to firefighters and communities. Nearly 400 firefighters from Ontario, the Maritimes, Alaska and even Australia pitched in to help. The biggest and most difficult forest fire was near the Chelaslie River south of Burns Lake in northwestern British Columbia. It burned 133,162 hectares, accounting for more than 30 per cent of land burned in the province this year. Another big fire occurred in northern British Columbia near the Alberta border when a lightning strike whipped by strong winds caused 3,800 hectares to burn at Red Deer Creek. And a fire at Smith Creek, west of Kelowna, forced 2,500 people out of their homes. Over the course of the summer a series of smoke advisories and special air quality statements, issued by the province and Environment Canada respectively, were put in place for many regions, including the Okanagan Valley where residents of Peachland were urged to keep small children, the elderly and pets inside. On occasion, even Vancouver and the Fraser Valley were subject to air quality advisories as smoke plumes hung heavy over the skies.

Burnt forest.

©Environment Canada

Fortunately, timely rains and cool temperatures from September through October saved British Columbia from a second disastrous forest fire season and brought much-needed moisture to the somewhat water-starved province. Rainfall in Victoria and Vancouver totalled more than 40 per cent above normal, with Vancouver experiencing its wettest September-October in 10 years.

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4. The Nightmare Before, During and After Christmas

Measuring icicles.

©Environment Canada

The weekend before Christmas 2013 a vigorous winter storm coated parts of eastern Canada with a thick cocktail of snow, ice pellets, rain and freezing rain that plunged large parts of the region into days of cold and darkness. Restoration of full utilities and property clean-up continued well into 2014. At the time, a thick glaze left roads and sidewalks slick and dangerous; it also knocked down hydro lines, leaving over 500,000 people without power. In addition to wreaking havoc in Canada’s largest city (Toronto), it crippled North American transportation at one of the busiest travel times of the year. As damaging as it was, comparisons to the deadly ice storm that entombed much of Eastern Canada in 1998 weren’t even close with the earlier storm killing more than two dozen people and leaving another four million in the dark.

Ice covered trees.

©Environment Canada

Though picturesque, the Christmas storm created extremely dangerous conditions as fallen hydro lines intertwined with broken tree limbs that dangled across streets and property. The affected area extended from Lake Huron, across the Greater Toronto Area, east along Highway 401 to Cornwall, through Quebec’s Eastern Townships and Montérégie region, and across the central Maritimes centred on the Bay of Fundy. The epicentre of the freezing rain was in southern Ontario between Niagara and Trenton, where between 20 and 30 mm fell – more than two-year’s worth in two days.

Ice covered trees.

©Environment Canada

The complex weather system originated in Texas and sent warm moist air northward above a shallow surface layer of cold air lying in wait across eastern Canada. The first wave spread continuous mixed precipitation into southern Ontario late on December 20 and through the morning of December 21. A few hours of intermittent precipitation followed before a more potent storm tapping loads of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico arrived late in the afternoon and persisted into the next day. At Toronto Pearson International Airport, an impressive 43 hours of freezing rain and drizzle occurred between the evening of December 20 and late afternoon on December 22, while temperatures remained fairly constant hovering around the freezing mark for 60 hours. Trenton registered 55 hours of freezing precipitation, while farther north – between Kincardine and Ottawa – snow and ice pellets fell with peaks of 18 cm of snow in Ottawa and 15 cm of ice pellets in Cornwall.

Ice covered trees.

©Environment Canada

In southwestern Ontario and along the north shore of Lake Erie, it was all rain with totals between 40 and 70 mm. In Montréal and Saint-Hyacinthe, it was mostly snow totalling 11 cm and 20 cm respectively while the Gaspésie received up to 65 cm of snow with strong winds. Freezing rain totals in Quebec ranged from 15 to 25 mm through the Richelieu Valley and in Sherbrooke. In New Brunswick, freezing rain coated surfaces with 10 to 30 mm of ice, augmented by a series of fierce storms between Christmas and a few days after New Years that dumped 30 to 70 cm of snow and freezing rain. NB Power called that two-week period of nasty weather the most damaging and challenging in decades.

Ice covered trees.

©Environment Canada

Because temperatures remained below freezing in the wake of the storm, there was little natural melting. Wind strengths also picked up resulting in ice-ladened tree branches snapping, crackling and bringing down power lines for a week afterward. Over half of those plunged into darkness were in the Toronto region, with Toronto Hydro calling it one of the largest ice storms in history. The icy weather left the city with a fractured transit system, a water pumping station out of commission and two major hospitals running on back-up generators. Community centres were opened to warm and feed thousands of citizens, while retailers struggled to remain open through one of the busiest and most profitable shopping weeks of the year.

Ice covered trees.

©Environment Canada

In Quebec, 54,000 people lost power – most living in the Eastern Townships, Montérégie and Montréal. In the Maritimes, the hardest hit area centred on Rothesay and St. Stephen. In total, 88,000 residents faced off-and-on power interruptions; some as many as six times. Hydro trucks from Michigan to Maine and as far west as Manitoba arrived to help eastern Canada, but restoring power proved to be slow and difficult as utility crews trudged through deep snow, crossed slippery surfaces or manoeuvred debris piles to reach damaged areas. Full service wasn’t back in New Brunswick for 11 days. In southern Ontario, more than 100,000 people in homes, businesses and farms were still without power on Boxing Day.

Ice covered trees.

©Environment Canada

The storm was thought to have played a factor in fatalities in Ontario and Quebec, including six fatal highway crashes and five deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from unsafe heating methods. Additional costs from worker overtime, spoiled food, and damaged homes, vehicles and public infrastructure is thought to exceed hundreds of millions of dollars. Irreplaceable is the loss of trees. In Toronto alone, some streets lost between 50 and 80 per cent of their mature canopy leaving large holes in the city’s urban forest.

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5. Summer – Hot on the Coasts, Cool in the Centre

After enduring one of the harshest winters in recent memory, Canadians figured Mother Nature owed them a break. A sunny, warm summer was top of mind. For some, their prayers were answered. For others, it was yet another seasonal letdown. Actually, the summer was 1.0°C above average making it the sixth warmest since nationwide record-keeping began in 1948. Much of Canada registered warmer than normal temperatures, with five regions (incl. Atlantic Canada, Northern Prairies, BC southern interior, Western NWT, and Pacific Coast) experiencing their top ten warmest on record. The exception was Southern portions of Ontario and Quebec where, ironically, a large percentage of Canadians live. But even there temperatures were only 0.2°C below seasonal values. For a scarce few, a summer without heat, haze and humidity was perfectly fine. The rest called it a “bummer of a summer” because it just never warmed up.

Cool weather fishing.

©Environment Canada

The Pacific coast featured its third warmest summer in 67 years and the warmest in 10 years at 1.4°C above normal. Besides being spectacularly warm, it was remarkably dry − the seventh driest – with total rainfall 26 per cent below normal and drier than any previous summer that was warmer. The combination of heat and dry made it arguably the most delightful summer on record. Further, coastal British Columbia didn’t get the usual June gloom. Other parts of the province, including the southern mountains and the interior, were similarly warm and dry. In mid-July, interior locations experienced several days above 40°C. The hot spot was Ashcroft at 41.3°C. At the first sign of sunshine in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island, droves of beachgoers raced to the water’s edge. On the other hand, the province faced an extensive and expensive wildfire-fighting season. And on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, level 3 drought conditions prompted officials to ask residents to cut water consumption to limit the drawdown on streams and groundwater. But while west coast lawns were brown and garden beds parched, few were complaining. The only other downside to the glorious weather was the need for health officials in Vancouver to warn residents about strenuous outdoor activities when high amounts of ground-level pollutants prevailed.

The west coast summer spilled over into Alberta where July and August featured temperatures almost 2°C warmer than normal and precipitation at about 56 per cent of usual. In July, Calgary had the third warmest month of any month in 72 years. Under unusually high humidity, health authorities issued heat advisories and energy officials pleaded with Albertans to ease off on power consumption.

Kids building sand castles.

©Environment Canada

Atlantic Canada was just as warm as the west coast − 1.5°C above normal for the fourth warmest summer on record. In St. John’s, July was the hottest month on record; no month going back 140 years has ever been warmer at 19.7°C or 3.9°C above normal. In total, all but two July days were warmer than normal. Incredibly, St. John’s was almost as warm as Toronto and trumped it on its number of hot days with 19 above 25°C. Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal had fewer days above 25°C than St. John’s! Warm, dry conditions left rivers across Newfoundland and Labrador with low water levels and “boiling” temperatures prompting the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to close 63 salmon rivers across the province. But while conditions were dry, the air was not. On July 30, the humidex in St. John’s hit a new all-time record when it topped out at 38.7. During July, the high demand for fans and backyard pools stripped store shelves bare of these items, leaving consumers high and dry – and very hot.

Family climbing rocks.

©Environment Canada

Residents in the central part of the country – including western Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan – felt left out in the cold. Days with maximum temperatures above 30°C generally numbered two to four at most. And the lack of sunshine gave the impression of much cooler temperatures. Hamilton saw only one day over 30°C all year and that was on June 17 at 30.3°C. In 2013, there were 9 hot days and 25 the year before. Similarly, London counted only one hot day – June 16 – and that was almost a week before the official start of summer. For Windsor, which typically leads the East with the warmest summers, it was the coldest July in 22 years. In southern Ontario, July and August were the second coldest two months in 55 years of records. Only 1992, often referred to in modern weather circles as “the year without summer,” was worse. Toronto went eight weeks in the warmest part of the year without registering a temperature at or above 30°C. For stations in southwestern Ontario, it was June that was the warmest summer month; a rare occurrence.

Girl playing in ocean.

©Environment Canada

Some Ontario and Quebec residents tried to make good of a lousy situation by claiming they were grateful for a no-smog, energy-saving, mosquito-free, tree-loving kind of summer. True, summer was great for those with breathing difficulties. Cooler temperatures meant much less smog and fewer pollutants in the air. Indeed, Ontario featured an unprecedented zero smog days. Gardens and lawns stayed lush and green and nobody had to turn on the sprinkler. Energy-sucking air conditioners were also often silent, resulting in more than 10 per cent savings. But even the most optimistic of residents had to admit that the weather was lousy for vacationers, day trippers and beachgoers who faced conditions more conducive to sweaters than speedos. The water was so cold that even kids stayed away. Case in point – the Great Lakes water temperatures were three to six degrees cooler than last year. By Labour Day, most Canadians in the middle of the country were asking the same thing, “What happened to summer?” 

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6. Hurricane Arthur and Others

The Atlantic hurricane season was quiet as forecasted, with eight ‘named’ storms forming in the Atlantic basin. While this fell below the recent long-term average of 11, six were hurricanes and two of those – Edouard and Gonzalo – were considered major. The season’s first hurricane, Arthur, came relatively early for a significant hurricane, while Gonzalo, the last hurricane, marked an early end to the season. Both storms were the most punishing ones of the season in Atlantic Canada.

Arthur developed from a low-pressure centre over the southeastern United States in late June. By July 1, it became sufficiently organized and strengthened to hit tropical storm status. Drifting northward, it reached hurricane strength on July 3, attaining Category 2 status with peak winds of 160 km/h late in the evening. Arthur made landfall near Beaufort, North Carolina, then accelerated northward and weakened as it passed by Cape Cod. Transitioning into a post-tropical storm, it barrelled into the southwestern part of Nova Scotia on July 4 with might. Chris Fogarty, manager of Environment Canada’s Canadian Hurricane Centre in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, called Arthur “a nor’easter, with attitude.” Its slower speed gave it time to inflict a longer punch – 12 hours to track from just north of Yarmouth to near Prince Edward Island. Arthur made landfall near Metaghan, N.S. and moved northeastward to the Fundy coast before crossing into western P.E.I., bringing heavy rains of as much as 150 mm. The remnants of Arthur also affected the Gaspésie region of Quebec where soaking rains topped 80 mm and lashing winds reached 100 km/h. The town of Carleton-sur-Mer in Chaleur Bay was especially hard hit with power outages, uprooted trees, damaged houses and capsized sailboats. In Marsoui, near Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, the river burst its banks, flooding roads and highways and inundating 20 homes.

Fallen trees.

©Environment Canada

In New Brunswick, Arthur’s winds topped 100 km/h and it rained hard. Along the Fundy shoreline in St. Stephen it rained so hard (over 150 mm) that you couldn’t see three metres ahead. In Nova Scotia, Greenwood was hit worst with wind gusts close to 140 km/h. On the province’s southwestern and eastern shores, five- to seven-metre waves pounded with a huge surf that set off rip currents. Power outages were the lasting impact of Arthur’s remains. Utility workers in the Maritimes aided by crews from Quebec and Maine faced a herculean undertaking in repairing transmission and distribution systems. Nova Scotia’s utility admitted that the damage inflicted by Arthur was equal to that left by Hurricane Juan more than 11 years earlier. At the storm’s peak in Nova Scotia, the wet and windy wallop toppled trees and knocked out power for more than 144,000 homes and businesses; some lost services for up to eight days. In New Brunswick, the storm took out power for 140,000 NB Power customers − more than 60 per cent of the utility’s clientele. It was the third time that there were multiple days with lost power in the last 16 months with Arthur unleashing more damage to infrastructure from rains and winds than any other storm in the utility’s history. It took as much as 18 days to reconnect power to all households and businesses.

Arthur was well forecasted, but in the end it had a few surprises – among them the slowness of its departure and stronger winds where the threat is usually rain and more rains where the winds are usually the issue. The storm terminated flights in the Maritimes and forced the cancellation of several festivals and blood donor clinics. Road travel was disrupted because of fallen tree debris and flooded surfaces. Hurricane-force winds and rains beat back some strawberry plants and grain stalks and washed away potato seedlings, although the earliness of the storm allowed some early plantings to avoid the blow-over and drenching. Trees were especially vulnerable due to June’s above-average rainfall that meant rootballs were sitting in highly saturated ground from which they could be more easily lifted.

Fallen tree on car.

©Environment Canada

The season also featured other tropical storms. Just ahead of Tropical Storm Bertha on August 8, the Maritimes experienced some strong gusty winds, heavy rain and pea- to dime-sized hail across parts of Nova Scotia, while a funnel cloud or two made their way across Cape Breton Island. On August 29, Hurricane Cristobal tracked northeastward across the southeastern Grand Banks bringing rainy weather to the Avalon Peninsula. Significant rainfall amounts also occurred over the southern part of the Gaspé in Quebec where Chandler recorded 50 mm of rain.

Road damage.

©Environment Canada

Hurricane Gonzalo wrapped things up for the season, starting on October 18 when it launched an hours-long attack on tiny Bermuda as a Category-3 hurricane. From there, it quickly moved northward over the Atlantic Ocean on a track that took it just 540 km southwest of Cape Race, Newfoundland on October 19 with maximum sustained winds of 140 km/h. Fortunately, it gave the province a pass, staying offshore before racing out into the North Atlantic where it would eventually affect Europe and end in Greece. The Avalon Peninsula got quite a soaking for two to three hours with 50 mm in all. Off the coast of Newfoundland, exploration companies took extra precautions with oil installations, but weather conditions − 10-metre waves and 100 km/h winds − were not serious enough to order worker evacuations. While most Newfoundlanders simply slept through the worst of Gonzalo, there were other impacts. Participants of this year’s Cape to Cabot half marathon – a race that bills itself as one of the toughest in Canada – faced even tougher conditions, with sections of the hilly terrain washed out and strong in-your-face winds adding to the experience. And on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia there were high seas and rip currents from Shelburne to Louisburg.

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7. Airdrie to Calgary Hailer

On the afternoons of August 7 and 8, severe thunderstorms developed along the Alberta foothills and began tracking eastward towards Calgary and Medicine Hat. The storms also produced strong winds, including a brief but intense low-level rotating outflow (a.k.a. gustnado) northeast of Calgary and at Buffalo, Alberta, packing winds of 140 km/h on August 8. The weather was unusual on two fronts - it featured golf ball- to baseball-sized hail driven by strong winds and a storm whose swirling path meant some properties were hit three times in the course of an hour. Further, the impacted area stretched more than 250 km across central Alberta, making it one of the largest hail-stricken areas from a single storm in 20 years.

Hail on lawn.

©Environment Canada

On August 7, the community of Airdrie, 40 km north of Calgary, was hit hardest, with six people being injured badly enough by the hail to require hospitalization and almost every household reporting damage. Hailstones broke shingles, punched through siding and eaves, smashed windows and lights, and dented roofs on vehicles and buildings. More than half the damaged vehicles were total write-offs. It also smashed tomatoes, squashed squash, shredded flowers and hanging baskets, and denuded trees. There was so much hail, it looked like the ground was covered with snow. Slushy hail drifts piled up along the highways and were still evident the next day. Roadways in some communities were flooded when sewers backed up. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, property damage from the intense storm topped $450 million (not including crop claims filed separately to crop insurers and provincial disaster agencies). With some crops smashed right to the ground, many farmers in southern Alberta said this "white combine" was the worst and most damaging in 80 years.

Of the primary severe weather categories for summer − winds, tornadoes, heavy rain and hail - by far the greatest number of weather events on the Prairies this year involved hail (nearly 60 per cent). In total, there were 187 severe hail events reported: 84 in Alberta; 64 in Saskatchewan; and 39 in Manitoba. The storms were so violent and expansive that, according to the Canadian Crop Hail Association, over 13,300 crop-related hail claims were filed with total payouts of $250 million - 45 per cent more than last year and with average claims also up 42 per cent from 2013.

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8. Powerful December Storms on West and East Coasts

During the second week of December, millions of Canadians from the West Coast, Central Canada and the Maritimes were bombarded by intense pre-winter storms featuring strong winds, drenching rains, flooding and heavy snowfalls. On the West Coast, a succession of three storms from tropical origins hammered Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia’s central and south coasts with hardly a lull between them. Winds were fierce and rains heavy, but the air was warm. Relentless winds and rain punished the area – especially Vancouver Island’s higher westerly facing slopes. The combination of strong winds between 90 to 110 km/h and more than a month’s worth of soaking rains led to flash floods, pooling water on roads, washouts near rivers, and slides of mud and rock. Victoria got off lightly, but up-island the communities of Comox, Courtenay and Port Alberni were hit hard and continuously. Flooding in Courtenay following 250 mm of rain led to a local state of emergency. Some reservoirs were so full on Vancouver Island that they began spilling over. Heavy rains also closed local ski hills that had just opened. The weather led to cancelled ferry sailings on several routes, downed trees, power outages for thousands of homeowners and businesses, and flooded streets and basements everywhere. On B.C.’s lower mainland, the city of Delta also declared a brief state of emergency after winds and waves collapsed a beach wall. On the north shore of Vancouver, there were rain-triggered landslides and rock slides. The B.C. River Forecast Centre issued flood watches for four major rivers on Vancouver’s North Shore. Along Marine Drive in Vancouver, crews laid sandbags due to fears that king tides at the zenith of the winter season would inundate roads. And on the Sea to Sky Highway, some residents lost water after days of heavy rain damaged their local water source.

High winds by the ocean.

©Environment Canada

On the East Coast there was just one storm, but its incredible reach, intensity and slow movement produced widespread damages for residents in six provinces. The powerful nor’easter travelled up the Eastern Seaboard and stalled in the Gulf of Maine where, for three days, it sent out flooding rains, humongous snows and freezing rain driven by powerful winds and high seas. Rainfall amounts were staggering across all three Maritime provinces, measuring between 100 and 150 mm. Moncton got 142 mm of rain in one 24-hour period on December 10, far exceeding any other single daily rainfall in December since records began in 1881. The deluge of rain also smashed weather records in Grand Manan. Its storm rainfall over 48 hours was 162 mm. The system brought all forms of precipitation depending on the temperature but all were in large quantities. In New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, any rainfall was a worry because the frozen ground left water having to run off instead of being absorbed. If the storm was stalled, so were residents in all three provinces who faced dangerous conditions out on the roads. At least three deaths were attributed to the storm that caused poor visibility, and washed out bridges and roads from the relentless wind-driven rains. People everywhere reported flooded basements and power outages. Authorities in New Brunswick issued flood warnings on the Nashwaak and Kennebecasis rivers. In the Acadian Peninsula, winds gusting up to 90 km/h blew in between 30 and 40 cm of snow that was then weighted down when the snows turned to rain.

The Cape Cod storm was so far-reaching that its last fling at North America was felt in western Quebec and southern and eastern Ontario. In those regions, winter’s first nasty storm was all about snow with between 20 and 30 cm being dumped. That, along with strong winds, caused the usual slow commute and hundreds of accidents.

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9. Angus Tornado

Environment Canada confirmed 19 tornadoes in Ontario in 2014; fewer than last year but more than the seasonal average of 12. Most tornadoes were weak and short lived, causing some damage but no deaths. The exception was an Enhanced Fujita Scale 2 (EF2) tornado in Angus, 18 km southwest of Barrie that hit just before the dinner hour on June 17. The storm was an offshoot of a potent weather system that had triggered rare double tornadoes and levelled a town in Nebraska the previous day.

Damaged homes.

©Environment Canada

The fast-moving storm raced across southern Ontario, spawning several strong-to-severe thunderstorms that raised anxiety and alertness across the province. Ominous skies and rolling thunderstorms led to tornado warnings in many areas including Hamilton, Barrie and Newmarket.

Damaged homes.

©Environment Canada

Before noon, lightning injured four golfers north of Toronto – one critically – and generated funnel cloud/twister sightings near Walkerton, Hanover and Angus. Around 5:00 p.m. a line of severe thunderstorms moved into the Lake Simcoe region and ten to fifteen minutes later a tornado tore through the community of Angus. Rated at the high end of an EF2, it featured peak winds between 200 and 220 km/h, a width of 300 m at its widest point and tracked over 20 km. On two streets in Angus, residents were stunned by the carnage that tore neighbourhoods apart. Winds damaged up to 102 homes (14 beyond repair) and left 300 homeless.

Damaged homes.

©Environment Canada

The debris field stretched nearly a kilometre, with some houses missing roofs, walls and even top floors. The swirling mass of punishing winds, thunder and lightning blew out windows, tore up fences and sheds, flipped over vehicles, uprooted trees and tossed hot tubs. At a nearby storage facility, shipping containers weighing 2,500 to 5,000 kg were flipped seven metres in the air. Insurance claims exceeded $30 million but, miraculously, no one was seriously injured and only three people suffered minor injuries. In the wake of the tornado, municipal officials declared a week-long state of emergency.

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10. “Snowtember” in Calgary

Snow in September is not rare in Calgary. After all, residents boast that theirs is the largest Canadian city with snow falling every month. But even longtime Calgarians were shocked on September 7 when – in the midst of a sunny 25°C afternoon – they learned the next day’s forecast called for freezing temperatures and upwards of 10 cm of snow, with snowfall warnings in effect for a large swath of southern Alberta. And snow it did! For the next three days, Calgary was battered by foul wintry weather that swapped sweat for slush as a 25-degree drop in temperature took hold.

Summer in back yard.

©Environment Canada

A significant layer of Arctic air, mixed with moisture in unstable air, engulfed Calgary and surrounding areas. When the air was driven upslope over the foothills, even more frozen precipitation appeared. At Calgary International Airport, the three-day snowfall totalled 28.2 cm with amounts between 40 and 45 cm occurring over western portions of the city.

Snow covered back yard.

©Environment Canada

The storm’s snowfall was the highest September deposit before the autumn equinox in the last 130 years. And to occur prior to a killing frost and so early in September, when average temperatures range between 18.8°C for daytime highs and 5.2°C for nighttime lows, was highly unusual. In the last six years, Calgary has only seen snow in September on September 17, 2010 when a meager 0.2 cm fell.

Snow covered yard.

©Environment Canada

The heavy wet snow created huge traffic problems for drivers and inflicted extensive property damage. Trees still flush with green leaves bowed, sagged and snapped from the weight of the sticky snow and fell onto power lines, vehicles and roads, wreaking havoc across the city. When compared with the debris left from last year’s flood, the snowfall’s impact included thousands more kilograms of vegetative debris at landfills, city drop-off zones, parks and private properties.

Snow covered yard.

©Environment Canada

Similarly, widespread power outages – which at one point affected up to 74,000 homes and businesses – affected more than two and a half times the number of customers who lost power during last year’s flood and emergency services responded to twice the number of calls (a record 27,000 calls in 72 hours). Outside Calgary, from Red Deer to High River, farmers braced against killing frost and heavy, wet snow that beat down crops, smashed stalks and muddied fields with less than one quarter of harvesting completed. Most had to wait until everything dried before getting back on their combines.

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Runner-up Stories 2014

  1. Early January Storm Cripples Atlantic Canada
  2. Severe Ice and Higher, Colder Waters on the Great Lakes
  3. The Return of Sea Ice
  4. Flooding from East to West
  5. Wicked Winds across the West
  6. April Fool's Storm in Atlantic Canada
  7. Severe September Storm in Ontario

1. Early January Storm Cripples Atlantic Canada

In a winter that was technically just beginning but had already worn out its welcome, there came a powerful Cape Cod storm the day after New Year’s that inflicted a crippling blow to Atlantic Canada. The storm began with heavy snow that morphed into a blinding blizzard followed by biting wind chills over the next several days. Precipitation ranged from 40 cm of snow to 47 mm of rain and everything in between, including 5 to 10 mm of freezing rain in some areas of central New Brunswick. Added to the mix were gusting winds of up to 60 km/h that created whiteout conditions, driving rains and drifting snow that caused more problems than accumulations.

The storm hit Nova Scotia particularly hard, with ensuing store closures, travel delays, flight cancellations and dangerous driving conditions. Most universities, college campuses and libraries were also closed, as well as many daycare centres. Buses were taken off the roads and ferry service between provinces was cancelled. Local flooding occurred along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast near Liverpool because of higher-than-normal water levels and heavy pounding surf. In Prince Edward Island, ice storms left thousands of residents unplugged and in the dark. Once departed, the storm ushered in cold weather with persistent wind chills between -35 and -45, which is unusually cold for the Maritimes. The freezing cold came close to breaking a low temperature record in Saint John on January 2 when the thermometer reached -26.3°C with a wind chill of -39, and did set a record in Edmundston when temperatures hit a low of -38.1°C. Record lows were also set in Bathurst, Charlo, St-Leonard, Moncton and Fredericton.

The bad weather played havoc with New Brunswick’s power system as freezing rain, wind and rain knocked out electricity to thousands of homes and businesses. This was the second major ice storm in two weeks. Combined, the pre-Christmas and post-New Year’s storms cost NB Power $12 million in overtime to repair power lines and infrastructure damaged by foul weather. They were the most damaging storms to hit the provincial power grid in decades, and far exceeded the magnitude and cost of the infamous Eastern Canadian ice storm in 1998.

The fierce storm that pounded the Maritimes brought even more weather misery to Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula in the days that followed. St. John’s residents woke up to nearly 40 cm of snow dumped by the big storm. Although it was a hit and run, lingering powerful winds of 111 km/h whipped the snow into monstrous drifts and created blowing snow and whiteouts that resulted in treacherous driving and walking conditions. The storm caused flight cancellations, interrupted public transit and closed roads, government offices, universities and businesses. But it was the power outages that came in the midst of some of the coldest weather in years (-35 wind chills) that hurt the most. To mitigate the impact, officials opened warming centres across the province. Ironically, in the days leading up to the storm, the provincial power authority had implemented periodic rolling blackouts to avoid crashing the system. So what started as a power-plant breakdown then moved to rolling blackouts and culminated in full-out power outages that left 90,000 customers shivering in the dark and buried in snow for days. At the peak of the power outage, about 190,000 customers were in the dark forcing schools to close for a week.

2. Severe Ice and Higher, Colder Waters on the Great Lakes

With an early onset to winter and the intensity of the cold throughout, it was no surprise that the Great Lakes ice cover in 2013-14 was thick, expansive and lasted well into spring. The first sign of a thick and early ice season came with the sighting of icebreakers in mid-December – a good two to three weeks earlier than normal. Over the winter, shipping channels became so choked with ice that Canadian and American Coast Guard icebreakers logged four times more hours than average for the same period in recent years. Some breakers worked non-stop for 55 days trying to clear paths for vessels hauling essential cargo such as heating oil, salt and coal. It was so cold in January that the Great Lakes became a virtual ‘ice machine’, refreezing as soon as ice breakers opened up leads in ice floes. According to Environment Canada’s Canadian Ice Service, it was one of the most prolific ice seasons on record for the Great Lakes with records dating back over 40 years. Statistics attributed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory reveal that the Great Lakes reached a high of 92.2 per cent ice coverage on March 6.  The last time there was that much ice was in 1978-79 when coverage hit a record high of 94.7 per cent. By comparison, 2012-13 winter’s coverage peaked at about 40 per cent. Statistics for the individual lakes included: 95 per cent or more for lakes Superior, Huron, Erie and St. Clair; 93 per cent for Lake Michigan; and 61 per cent for Lake Ontario. The final sign of a remarkable ice year came in the first week of June when the last of the ice in Lake Superior melted, making it the latest date on record for last ice on the Great Lakes.

Connected to the head of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway was also impacted as its 56th shipping season did not fully open until March 31 – nine days later than the previous winter and its latest start since 2009. Once open, the heavy ice conditions meant it took five more weeks for traffic flow to reach normal levels on Lake Superior. Ports and terminals were also closed longer. The late start added stress and costs on shippers and customers, especially Prairie grain farmers who were eager to begin shipping last year’s bumper crop to overseas markets. On a positive note, a thick and stable ice cover helped many aquatic species of plants and animals to survive through winter.

Also positive to many was the continuation of rising water levels in the Great Lakes. Among the contributing factors were: record-setting snowfalls and snowpack; long-lasting intense cold that bred nearly full ice cover; a cold beginning and lukewarm ending to spring; and a cooler-wetter summer. The fact that much of the snow came from outside the Great Lakes watershed also helped boost lake levels. Further, the water content of the snowcover was the highest in a decade on lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron. And for the first time since 1998, all of the Great Lakes were above their long-term (1918-2013) monthly average levels in September. The most remarkable rebounds were on lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron, where water levels rose to those not seen since the late 1990s. Given that lakes Michigan and Huron were at record low levels ever in January 2013, a full 72 cm below the 1918-2013 average, the water level rise since has been astonishing as levels reached as high as 17 cm above average by November 2014. Also noteworthy is that the seasonal decline of lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron water levels, which typically begins in mid- to late-summer, was delayed until late fall on Lake Superior and not seen yet on lakes Michigan and Huron. This was due in part to continued wetter-than-normal conditions. According to Environment Canada, there have only been seven years since 1918 that levels on lakes Michigan and Huron reached their annual peak after September. Among those benefiting from higher water levels were recreational boaters, beach-front cottagers, tourists, commercial fishers, shippers and freighters, and hydro-power authorities. It was also a plus for freshwater habitats and spawning and nursery grounds.

The Great Lakes weren’t just fuller than usual, waters were colder too. In the middle of lakes Ontario and Huron surface water temperatures were about 6°C colder on Canada Day 2014 than they were the year before. And on the August long weekend, Lake Superior had surface temperatures of 2.9°C cooler than the previous year.

3. The Return of Sea Ice

After several years of lower-than-average sea ice concentrations along the East coast, the ice was back in a huge way in 2014 as it jammed into the Strait of Belle Isle and extended southward all the way to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and along Maritime coastlines. On the Atlantic side, the ice extended far out into the ocean from Labrador all the way down to Trinity Bay on the Avalon Peninsula. The last time the Canadian Coast Guard encountered such heavy ice conditions in eastern Newfoundland was in 1993-94. Icebreakers had a difficult time keeping ferries unstuck and allowing commercial ships and oil tankers to continue travelling through ice-infested waters. In mid-February, following weeks of cold and unusual calmness, sea ice began to build up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence where ice thickness ranged from 30 to 75 cm. Prevailing westerly winds shoved the ice against the western coast of Newfoundland in one-metre floes. Such thicknesses hadn’t been seen in early March in over 25 years and were 10 per cent more than the 30-year average. At the end of March, the Gulf of St. Lawrence was almost entirely covered by one-metre-thick ice. According to Environment Canada’s Canadian Ice Service, 2013-14 had the second highest ice year in 20 years in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In April, hundreds of passengers aboard ferries off Cape Breton Island became stuck for days by wind-driven ice. It was a tough two weeks of significant delays for Marine Atlantic owing to severe weather systems and heavy ice in the Cabot Strait. In early May, lobster fishermen found it a challenge to set traps. Along the Newfoundland and Labrador coast, a bumper crop of icebergs – the most seen in more than 10 years and reaching 500 km further south than normal – excited tourists but worried mariners, especially those hidden in the fog or bobbing up and down in rough seas

Heading north, summer air temperatures in the Arctic were almost a degree warmer than normal. June was slightly cooler than normal, but July air temperatures rose 2.0 to 4.0°C above average over the central Arctic Ocean. The excess warmth and favorable winds forced sea ice to retreat rapidly. By the end of July, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in the United States, sea ice extent was the fourth lowest since satellite observations began 36 years ago. Weather patterns changed in August with cooler air conditions and a shift in winds that spread out the ice.  NSIDC reported that on September 17 the Arctic sea ice shrank to its sixth lowest extent, reinforcing the long-term downward trend in Arctic ice extent. At this time of minimum extent, Arctic sea ice covered 5.02 million square km. This was 1.6 million square km above the record minimum extent of 2012 and 1.2 million square km below the recent 30-year average minimum or 19 per cent below average. In the Canadian Arctic, Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait were mostly ice-free in mid-summer. In the Parry Channel, there was 64 per cent ice cover – slightly greater than normal and more than in the last 10 years. Unlike most recent years, the Northwest Passage remained closed and choked with ice, whereas the Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia remained open with little ice near most of the shipping channel.

Exciting news for Canadians was the discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of the lost ships from the Franklin Expedition of nearly 170 years ago. Behind the scenes, uncleared sea ice from Victoria Strait played a factor by severely limiting search efforts.

4. Flooding from East to West

In early April, mounds of snow were beginning to melt rapidly, temperatures were rising and rain was on the way, causing major concerns about potential flooding across the Maritimes. Prince Edward Island had received two times the normal amount of snowfall in March, with water content 36 per cent higher than normal for that time of year. And March temperatures five degrees below normal across the three provinces had kept snows from melting onto still-frozen ground with a reduced capacity for absorbing excessive spring rains. By April 9, as ice began moving on most rivers, water levels along the Kennebecasis and Nashwaak rivers in New Brunswick reached flood stage. The sudden spring thaw, spring rains and flooding led to road closures, filled basements and forced hundreds to leave their home. By mid-April, river water was spilling onto farm fields and into yards, flooding more basements and damaging recreational properties and trailers. Floodwaters also ripped out roadbeds, cut off key arterial roads and dislodged bridges off their abutments, causing millions of dollars in damage to New Brunswick’s highway infrastructure.

Across southern Quebec, April showers with daily amounts of 25 to 45 mm of rain and a rapid snowmelt on still-frozen ground meant huge discharges into rivers and lakes. In the town of Beauceville, where there was a kilometre-long ice jam along the Chaudière River, public safety authorities gave evacuation orders to several dozen residents and businesses. About 100 km north of Montreal, near Morin Heights, a rain-fed landslide destroyed several summer cottages. The hillside terrain became unstable when melting snow and a steady deluge of rain saturated the ground and dislodged massive chunks of earth. In Sherbrooke, the Saint-François River reached a record water level of 7.6 m on April 15, dividing the city. Firefighters suggested 600 people vacate their homes. Flooded downtown streets quickly froze when morning temperatures dipped to -8°C. On April 15, torrential rains caused the Sainte-Anne River in St-Raymond, just west of Quebec City, to rise at breakneck speed, flooding the downtown core.

In southern Ontario, spring flooding was almost a sure bet when a thick layer of pre-Christmas ice coated the ground, followed by deep snows that stayed all winter and cold temperatures that lasted well into spring. When heavy rains fell at spring freshet it was enough to prime rivers into flooding. In April, Belleville and other towns along the north shore of Lake Ontario came under a state of emergency when water levels rose on several streams and rivers, including the Moira, Salmon and Napanee rivers, and in the Lower Trent and Rideau Valley Conservation regions. During a 10-day flood threat, 1,600 volunteer sandbaggers in Belleville worked frantically as water on the Moira River reached the same levels as 2008 – the last time a major flood occurred. Damage to infrastructure was in the millions of dollars and states of emergency were declared in Central Hastings and Tweed in eastern Ontario. On the swelling Rideau River, water was at its highest level in more than five years. Rising waters also prompted flood warnings on the Grand River in southern Ontario.

Moving to the eastern Prairies, the mid-winter snowpack in southern Manitoba was twice its average but its moisture content was surprisingly low, which minimized the potential risk of spring flooding. Also favourable were the drier than normal soil conditions going into winter that meant the ground had some capacity to absorb spring snowmelt. What worried officials was that the depth of frost had reached almost three metres below the surface – enough to cause overland flooding. Ice jamming was also a worry because river ice was 30 per cent thicker than normal. What saved the day was the cold. Ironically, the frigid temperatures that residents cursed all winter also kept the snow dry and, through sublimation, reduced its water content. Further, cool spring temperatures slowed the rate of the spring melt. In the end, it stayed so cold for so long in Manitoba and Saskatchewan that spring flooding looked after itself. The one exception was the Fisher River that runs through Peguis First Nation. For the seventh time in five years it spilled its banks, swallowing roads, flooding properties and forcing residents to leave home.

Then there was Alberta. With the one-year anniversary of the province’s “flood of floods” just days away, a slow-moving storm on June 17 brought fears of déjà-vu as soaking rains hit portions of southern Alberta. A heavy rainfall warning calling for as much as 200 mm of rain raised the anxiety level in several communities in the area, especially when high streamflow advisories were issued for the Bow, Oldman, Milk and South Saskatchewan rivers. In the end, storm rainfall totals were less than warned but still high (peak rainfall for the storm reached 175 mm at West Castle) and the area affected was not as widespread as a year ago. While Calgary was spared the deluge, several towns and cities to the south were hard hit. Forty homes were flooded in Claresholm and states of emergency declared in a dozen communities, including Medicine Hat, parts of Lethbridge County, High River, Crowsnest Pass, Willow Creek and the Blood Indian Reserve. In Lethbridge, rainfall totals exceeded 246 mm between June 10 and 19, with 171 mm falling in three days between June 16 and 18. Lethbridge’s average yearly rainfall is 276 mm. As a result, the Oldman River rose 3.5 m and left 350 homes with flooded basements. On the Blood Reserve, 20 families were forced from their homes and 200 homes reported damage, most of which was caused by overland flooding and sewer backup.

5. Wicked Winds across the West

Riding a fast-moving air stream from the Mackenzie Valley, warm Pacific winds pushed across the Prairie provinces in mid-January. The super-charged ‘breeze’ was a welcome respite to what was becoming an extremely cold winter. Dozens of warm temperature records fell, including ones in Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. At Edmonton, for example, the temperature rose to 9.1°C, breaking the previous record by two degrees. Saskatoon’s high of 7.5°C on January 15 was the highest temperature recorded in the city since record-keeping began in 1892. Meanwhile, winds clipped along at hurricane-force speeds of 120 km/h, also breaking records along the way. The wicked winds rattled and broke windows, shook cars and inflicted millions of dollars in property damages. The blustery blows blew over semi-trailers, tore away signs and awnings, ripped away downtown building facades, knocked down pedestrians, bent cell towers, crushed grain bins and twisted traffic lights. Flying debris became a hazard for both motorists and pedestrians on roads and walkways. From northern British Columbia to eastern Manitoba, thousands of customers went without power due to toppled trees that downed power lines. The January thaw was short-lived and the ensuing weather turned into nasty snow squalls, blinding blizzards and freezing rain, with the occasional thunderstorm thrown in for surprise. The unusual weather kept school buses off the roads and students inside for the day. The blowing and drifting snow and slick ice led to numerous highway closures and contributed to two traffic fatalities in Alberta.

6. April Fool's Storm in Atlantic Canada

An end-of-March storm that developed off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States inched its way southeast of Nova Scotia to become an April Fool’s storm for those who thought maybe, just maybe, it was spring in Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick residents faced yet another massive power outage with more than 75,000 customers losing electricity due to freezing rain, ice pellets and heavy snow. Warming centres were opened in several locations and some rural areas experienced water shortages. Fredericton was once again covered in a thick coat of ice that felled trees onto power lines, toppled power poles and blew transformers. Total costs to NB Power exceeded $3 million. By April 1, Fredericton, which would normally have about 5 cm of snow on the ground, had 68 cm – the deepest snow cover ever measured at the capital in April. Plow operators worked around the clock as snowdrifts on some streets measured two metres deep and highway ramps were blocked by snow and stalled transport trucks. Deer were exhausted and weakened trampling through deep crusty snows and became easy targets for predators. In the harbour in Sydney, strong persistent northeasterly winds pushed sea ice up to three metres thick in places delaying Marine Atlantic ferry crossings for days. And for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, the 15 snow days this year was nearly double the number from last year.

Prince Edward Island seemed to be the hardest hit, digging out of another record snowfall. The storm pounded the Island for more than 30 hours. Maritime Electric compared this mix of snow and freezing rain to the infamous ice storm that hit the province in January 2008. In 2013-14, the snow dumps were frequent and heavy. Charlottetown had fiveour storms in excess of 25 cm or more in one day, including 48.54 cm on March 26, for a total of threefour more heavy snow days than average. Across the province, plows were called off secondary roads and schools were closed for a week as blowing snow and ice pellets continued to pelt the Island. In March, some students had more snow days than school days leaving the novelty of a snow day far behind.

The early April blast was also one of the worst in a ‘“winter of storms’” for Newfoundland and Labrador, generating a prolonged period of strong northeasterly winds with a mix of snow, ice pellets and freezing rain for southern Newfoundland. Heavy snows combined with strong winds created major drifting and whiteouts. In and around St. John’s, treacherous driving conditions led to the closure of many schools and businesses.

7. Severe September Storm in Ontario

Following one of the hottest and most humid summer days on September 5, a severe thunderstorm tracked through southern Ontario from west to east. Trigged by a cold front, it packed heavy rains and strong winds. London took the brunt of the storm, where winds toppled trees and wires, triggering power failures in and around the city. An evening concert was also cancelled when Western Fair organizers shut down the exhibition. Ottawa took a direct hit as well with downed trees, flooded streets and intersections, water-filled basements and the temporary stoppage of the Ottawa Redblacks football game due to lost power. On Christian Island, northwest of Midland, the storm damage looked suspiciously like a weak tornado that was later confirmed as an EF0 with winds of 90 km/h. Experts also confirmed that an EF1 tornado touched down in Udney, about 20 km east of Orillia, where winds damaged buildings, including a barn, shed and clubhouse. In Orillia, wind damage was consistent with a downburst as wind blasts felled dozens of majestic trees in the city’s downtown lakeside park. In the vicinity of Six Mile Lake, there was also tree damage due to straight-line winds with speeds in the range of 90 to 110 km/h. Recorded peak winds were strongest at Windsor (96 km/h) and Lagoon City (85 km/h). Rain totals were also a concern, with St. Thomas getting soaked with 75 mm that led to local flooding. Other wet spots with 60 to 90 mm of rain were Grand Bend, Tillsonburg and Fergus. On a tragic note, the storm was responsible for the loss of two lives – the first happened early in the day when a University of Waterloo student was struck by lightning after taking shelter underneath a tree; the second occurred in Orillia when a cyclist hit by falling tree branches was found unconscious and later died.

Just five days later, on September 10, another powerful storm tracked across the same area and into central and northern Ontario with similar rainfall amounts. After two heavy rainfalls in less than a week, officials issued high water and flood warnings for low-lying areas. High winds also wreaked havoc near and south of London. In Windsor-Amherstburg, with a second storm of 60 to 100 mm, several residents faced a recurrence of wet basements. The deluge of rain also affected London again, swallowing streets, choking traffic, toppling trees and turning basements into indoor pools. And for a second time, Western Fair officials closed the fair grounds. Combined, the two storms dumped rains of 123 mm in London, 108 mm in Tillsonburg, 117 mm in Waterloo, 126 mm in Fergus and 113 cm in St. Thomas.

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Atlantic - Regional Highlights

1. Lights Out!

More than 20,000 customers in Nova Scotia were left in the dark on January 11-12 after 60 mm of heavy rains and 15 mm of freezing rain – all driven by strong winds gusting over 100 km/h – pounded the region. Roads were flooded, city streets were littered with tree limbs, signage, garbage cans and other debris, and flights and ferry crossings were either delayed or cancelled. The same storm also brought several hours of freezing rain to New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

2. From Blizzard to Thundersnow

A nasty nor’easter featuring powerful winds, heavy snow and widespread whiteouts whipped through the Maritimes on January 21-22. Charlottetown suffered the worst conditions with more than 37 cm of snow and winds gusting over 70 km/h in blizzard-like conditions. Businesses, hospital services, schools and government offices were shuttered down. Flights and ferry crossings were delayed or cancelled. The nasty system continued to intensify as it crossed central Newfoundland and headed out to sea. Over eastern Newfoundland, snow changed to ice pellets, freezing rain and rain in a rare winter thundersnow.

3. Valentine Week Storms

A Valentine’s Day storm rapidly made its way up the Eastern Seaboard dropping as much as 35 cm of snow in New Brunswick and 50 mm of rain in Nova Scotia. The mix of snow, rain and freezing rain buffeted by fierce winds between 80 and 100 km/h closed schools and left thousands of customers without power. Conditions were especially blustery in Newfoundland, where coastal residents faced the added peril of high waves and pounding surf. The worst weather occurred at North Point, where 104 cm of snow fell, and Wreckhouse (which is often the case), where wind gusts reached 170 km/h. Even Sunday church services were cancelled to encourage people to stay off the roads in the bad weather. Two days later, a second more massive and powerful storm with a mix of precipitation caused several multi-vehicle pileups that shut down the Confederation Bridge. Snowdrifts were high enough to completely bury cars and some drivers simply abandoned their vehicles – even in the middle of roadways. Notable storm statistics included 35 to 40 cm of snow between Moncton and Miramichi and gusty winds of 140 km/h at Sagona Island.

4. Near-record Winter Snows in PEI

Prince Edward Island took a pounding all winter from frequent heavy snowfalls that resulted in records or near-records being set. At Charlottetown, the seasonal snow total amounted to 418.4 cm. Normal winter snows in the city usually measure in at around 290 cm, with an average of one snowfall per winter dumping more than 25 cm. This year there were four dumps of at least 25 cm. Even school kids were getting restless with the novelty of snow days wearing off. In March there were more snow days than school days.

5. A Rain-filled Nor-Easter

On October 22, a slow-moving storm passed through the Maritimes. The heaviest downpours were between 100 and 160 mm, which – partnered with high winds – pummeled southeastern New Brunswick. Flooding occurred in low-lying areas with motorists experiencing hydroplaning. Top winds were reported at Cape Sable Island (189 km/h), while the greatest rainfalls over four days were recorded at Grand Manan (162 mm), Yarmouth (109 mm) and Baccaro Point (137 mm).

6. More NB Power Outages

On the first day of November, an intense storm that formed off Cape Hatteras and tracked northward spreading 20 to 30 cm of snow over central and northern New Brunswick and 40 to 70 mm of cold rain over southern portions of the province. With the snows came more power outages to thousands of customers. The weather also brought wind gusts of 90 km/h to southwestern Nova Scotia. In Prince Edward Island, pounding surf along the northern coast was an added peril. In Newfoundland, between 38 and 72 mm of rain driven by winds between 72 and 109 km/h blew across the island.

7. Early Nor'easter

The first nor’easter of the season approached the Maritimes on November 26 and tracked across Nova Scotia. Rain began over the Fundy region and snow spread across eastern and northern sections of New Brunswick, with ice pellets and freezing rain over the extreme southern sections. In the three biggest cities in New Brunswick, between 30 and 32 cm of snow fell. Despite lots of lead time and preparations, about 52,000 customers lost power as temperatures fell well below zero – mostly in the Fredericton to Sussex region. Schools and college classes were cancelled, flights and ferry services were delayed, and driving was treacherous across much of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

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Quebec - Regional Highlights

  1. Flash Freeze
  2. January Snow Squalls
  3. Too Cold to Snow
  4. Ever a March More Miserable
  5. Rare Night-time Tornadoes
  6. Quebec Microburst
  7. Down on the Farm
  8. November Gales

1. Flash Freeze

Ahead of a winter blast of teeth-chattering frigid temperatures on January 7, freezing rain and melting temperatures (some 5 to 10 degrees above normal) led to wet and slippery streets and sidewalks in Montreal. The subsequent flash freeze turned slushy surfaces into skating rinks that caused several accidents, road closures and power outages. Wind gusts of up to 90 km/h blew Christmas trees onto roads and sent garbage cans rolling down streets. Behind the system, temperatures plummeted. Extreme wind chills dipped between -40 and -43 in Abitibi, Bonnard, Manuane, Matagami and Washkaganish.

2. January Snow Squalls

Blowing snow and icy roads on January 27 made for dangerous driving in Quebec causing a 40-vehicle pileup on Highway 15 near Ste-Adèle. Collisions injured 30 people with seven hospitalized. Rough weather also led to the closure of several other highways. Heavy snow squalls impeded visibility in a matter of seconds leading to several fatal accidents. Black ice also contributed to the hazardous driving conditions. North of Montreal, a major pileup involved nearly 50 vehicles.

3. Too Cold to Snow

Montreal was cold in January but not snowy. Only 15 cm of snow fell in the city (normal is 50 cm), making it the most snowless January since 1988 when 14 cm fell. Snowfall in Bagotville was also scant, with a meagre 13 cm falling (normal 69 cm), making it the least snowy January since record-keeping began in 1942.

4. Ever a March More Miserable

March temperatures were between 3 and 6°C colder than normal across Quebec − the coldest of the past 30 years. Lake and river ice was much thicker than normal and covered larger extents. Snow cover at the end of March was two to three times thicker than normal over southern Quebec, with Sherbrooke reaching a record of 103 cm of snow compared to a normal of 49 cm.

5. Rare Night-time Tornadoes

On July 9, a vigorous cold front pushed through southern Quebec near Montreal, Montérégie, Lanaudière, the Laurentians, Mauricie and the Eastern Townships, bringing heavy rain and strong wind gusts. Rare nocturnal tornadoes with Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF)2 speeds of 150 km/h struck Saint-Fabien-de-Panet, and an EF1 tornado with 130 km/h winds struck Sainte-Apolline-de-Patton in Bellechasse. Wooded areas showed evidence of twisters, with long stretches of uprooted trees, broken branches and flooded roads. A subsequent survey identified another EF1 tornado that struck near Lake Saint Francis at Lambton in the Eastern Townships.

6. Quebec Microburst

A microburst packing winds between 90 and 130 km/h caused extensive damage in Pointe-du-Lac on July 31. The storm uprooted about 20 mature trees, tossed catamarans and damaged some highway infrastructure, forcing the closure of Highway 40. In Drummondville, torrential rains of 37 mm and hail of up to 3 cm fell in a matter of minutes flooding several properties. At around 4:30 p.m., an EF1 tornado with winds of 150 km/h caused damage to houses in Pont-Rouge near Quebec City.

7. Down on the Farm

In Abitibi-Témiscamingue a series of large, slow-moving weather systems made October gloomy and wet. The storms brought wind gusts of over 50 km/h and devastating hail, along with heavy rains that wreaked havoc with soybean farmers who lost nearly 85 per cent of their crop. Other large crop losses in the area included cereals, canola and corn.

8. November Gales

On November 24, unseasonably warm and humid air from Texas triggered a line of thunderstorms more typical of summer weather that moved through the southern Outaouais and into Chaudière-Appalaches. In southern Quebec, maximum temperatures – some occurring at night – soared 10 to 15 degrees above normal. In Montreal, for example, temperatures reached a balmy 18°C. Powerful winds of up to 107 km/h broke hydro poles, felled trees, shattered bus shelters, left traffic lights dangling and caused power outages for 54,000 Hydro-Québec customers. The hardest hit areas were in the Laurentides, Lanaudière and Lower St. Lawrence. In the cold air over northern Quebec, snow fell in abundance with 25 cm coating LG 4 East and Lake Pau.

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Ontario - Regional Highlights

  1. Frost Quakes
  2. Freezing Rain Frightens Torontonians
  3. Province-wide Whiteouts
  4. Spring Flooding in First Nations Communities
  5. Another Two-Tornado Day
  6. Burlington Rain Gusher
  7. August Deluges in Windsor
  8. Not Buffalo-Sized Snows
  9. Down On the Farm
  10. November Gales

1. Frost Quakes

Much of southern and eastern Ontario and Quebec was abuzz between Christmas and the first week of January after hearing, hearing about or feeling loud banging noises and tremors. Police and media were inundated with calls from the worried to the curious about what most thought were falling trees, sonic booms, gunshots or earthquake activity. In actual fact, they were experiencing what scientists called cryoseisms or “frost quakes” that are the result of freezing water splitting deep soil or rock or causing frost heaving. The sudden expansion of the water in frozen soil or rocks puts stress on the ground and the ensuing cracking, vibrating and booming noise can easily be mistaken for earthquakes and gunshots. Frost quakes are louder if the ground is saturated from previous rains, snowmelt or flooding and there is little snow cover to muffle the sound. They are best heard between midnight and dawn when sound travels better in cold air, there is less background noise and winds are lighter.

2. Freezing Rain Frightens Torontonians

An intensifying low over Arkansas brought 15 to 20 cm of snow east of Lake Huron and significant freezing rain to areas north of lakes Erie and Ontario over January 5-6. Residents in the Greater Toronto Area were especially nervous about the possible repeat of the pre-Christmas ice storm they had just weathered. What they got instead was a brief shot of freezing rain, with hardly any accretion on trees or hydro lines but enough of a coating to make roads treacherous during the commute. Adding to the misery was a dramatic drop in temperature by 17 degrees that created a flash freeze and black ice.

3. Province-wide Whiteouts

A surprise, fast-moving wall of snow caused highway havoc right across southern Ontario on February 27. Huge pileups – three 30-vehicle messes in southwestern Ontario alone – and white-knuckle driving were typical scenes. North of Toronto there was a 96-vehicle pileup on Highway 400. Amid blinding snow, the OPP closed all roads in Huron, Bruce and Perth counties, which led to a kind of reverse snow day as kids were left stuck at school overnight or billeted out.

4. Spring Flooding in First Nations Communities

The threat of rising flood waters on the Albany River and sewer back-ups forced the evacuation of 2,000 residents in the northern Ontario First Nation communities of Kashechewan and Attawapiskat around May 11, where 40 homes and buildings were damaged by sewage and flood waters. In total, eight communities in Ontario’s far north came under states of emergency, including Moosonee, mostly due to rising waters.

5. Another Two-Tornado Day

On June 24 at around 3:30 p.m., an EF1 tornado moved through the community of Laurel Station to the northwest of Orangeville. Peak winds associated with the tornado were between 135 and 175 km/h – strong enough to move a residential vehicle three metres, un-roof a few homes and down several trees. A half-hour later another EF1 tornado struck east of Tottenham. The twister prompted several road closures and damaged a riding stable where it killed a horse.

6. Burlington Rain Gusher

A band of thunderstorms generating massive rains developed in a line from Freelton to Burlington late on August 4. While rainfall amounts of 100 to 150 mm were estimated by radar, an amateur weather observer recorded a highly localized amount of 190 mm – a two-month supply – in four hours. The heavy rain flooded basements and intersections and forced the closure of many roads including Highways 403, 407 and the Queen Elizabeth Way, or QEW. On some roads water reached above the roofs of vehicles, forcing motorists and passengers to swim to safety. The deluge backed up storm drains, caused mudslides and creeks to overflow, and left standing water on 300 properties and in 500 basements. Burlington’s Mayor claimed it was the worst flooding he’d seen in 20 years. Illustrative of how targeted Burlington was, Hamilton recorded no rain, 3 mm fell at Toronto Pearson, Toronto Island got 1 mm and Vineland received 1.3 mm. Damages from flooding were estimated in excess of $90 million.

7. August Deluges in Windsor

A slow-moving storm crossed the Detroit River into Canada on August 11. Torrential downpours in excess of 70 mm over a 10-hour span fell in Windsor and district, filling basements and swamping yards and streets. It was a month’s worth of rain and the second-highest rain total ever recorded at the airport during August. About a week later, another powerful storm ripped through Windsor bringing down huge tree branches and tossing around backyard gazebos that were bolted down in concrete. An Environment Canada storm team later confirmed that at least two EF0 tornadoes touched down − the first in south Windsor and the second northeast of Harrow.

8. Not Buffalo-Sized Snows

Strong cold winds and relatively warm waters off the Great Lakes combined to produce intense snow squalls on November 19-20. The strongest affected regions were near Georgian Bay where the weather system remained nearly stationary for several hours, dumping snow amounts of 90 cm near Parry Sound, 40 cm in Huntsville, and 20 cm in Bracebridge and Barrie. While the numbers were impressive, they had nothing on the close to 200+ cm that fell in similar lake-effect storms over Buffalo, New York. Back in Ontario, multiple collisions on Highway 400 north of Toronto blocked north-south lanes south of Barrie, causing lengthy delays.

9. Down On the Farm

By late September, it was highly unusual to see fields of Ontario corn and soybeans still unharvested. September also featured twice the usual amount of rain, which kept good field and harvest days to a minimum. Fortunately, in late September and October, Ontario experienced warmer weather that allowed the harvest to progress. Still, in mid-November – with early winter cold, snow and winds − half of Ontario’s grain crop remained in the ground.   The Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture said it was the latest harvest over a broad area of the province since 1992 – so late that the delayed corn harvest cut into winter wheat planting.

10. November Gales

Unseasonably warm air from Texas, along with powerful 100 km/h winds, whipped through Ontario on November 24 leaving 87,000 hydro customers in the dark. In some places between Windsor and Kingston, trees were ripped right out of the ground – roots and all. Just prior to the warmth and winds came heavy rains that flooded streets and forced road closures. Temperatures soared between St. Catharines and Ottawa to record heights, including 21°C in Cornwall. Blowing winds broke hydro poles, felled trees, shattered bus shelters and left traffic lights dangling.

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Prairie Provinces - Regional Highlights

  1. Winds Un-roof School in Saskatchewan
  2. Frozen Pipes in Summer?
  3. A Four-Twister Day
  4. Capital Rain Gusher
  5. More Rain Gushers
  6. Nature's Redemption
  7. Down on the Farm
  8. Snowstorm from the West

1. Winds Un-roof School in Saskatchewan

A school gymnasium at Outlook lost part of its roof when violent plough winds blew through southwestern Saskatchewan on May 28. Heavy rain, golf ball-sized hail and wind gusts of up to 90 km/h were reported. Luckily, no one was hurt and the school remained open. The storm also mangled a number of rural storage sheds, tossed tree debris through houses, and flattened buildings, cattle sheds and greenhouses. Toonie-sized hail pummeled Shaunavon and Davidson.

2. Frozen Pipes in Summer?

Temperatures soared to 30°C in Winnipeg on June 1 but, ironically, about 400 residents were still contending with frozen water pipes from the coldest winter in 118 years. The thaw had yet to reach the frost line, which penetrated to record depths of up to 3 metres over winter, leaving many to continue relying on neighbours for water even with summer just around the corner.

3. A Four-Twister Day

On July 5, a series of thunderstorms packing tornadoes moved through south central Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba. One EF2 twister caused extensive damage to farm buildings and equipment north of Outlook. A second tornado (EF0) near Kenaston blew through a cemetery knocking down tombstones and felling trees. Cottages on Crooked Lake were battered by trees and storm waves. On Grenfell Beach, waves more than a metre high pushed some cabins completely away. Environment Canada confirmed two other tornadoes, but the twisters were weak and short-lived and did minimal damage. More destructive were the battering hailstones that came with the storms.

4. Capital Rain Gusher

A large slow-moving but vigorous storm brought heavy rains and strong winds to much of Alberta on July 25. Rainfall totals ranged from 55 mm in Camrose to between 50 and 80 mm across Edmonton. With close to a month’s worth of rain falling in one day, the Alberta capital was left with soaking basements and trashed flowerbeds. Along with the rains, wind speeds peaked at 75 to 95 km/h leading to numerous flight interruptions and power outages.

5. More Rain Gushers

A large, powerful Colorado low – more typical of late fall than summer – pushed a swath of rain with embedded thunderstorms through parts of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan on August 23. Storm rainfall totals included the following wet spots:  Reston 74 mm; Pierson 65 mm; Virden 64 mm; and Cypress Hills Park 78 mm. Gainsborough was still recovering from June’s floods with the majority of residents living in campers and without drinking water. At Moosomin, the town’s storm-sewer system filled up but avoided flooding. And at Cypress Hills, relentless rains and cold temperatures emptied campgrounds.

6. Nature's Redemption

Following one of the snowiest Septembers in years, Calgary experienced a delightful October that proved to be one of the warmest, sunniest and driest on record. The average temperature soared more than 3°C warmer than normal making it the fourth warmest October with records dating to the 1880s. It was also the warmest October in nearly five decades and, even then, it was only 0.1°C colder than in 1965. One record was set in 2014 – the warmest average minimum temperature (1.7°C) – which had not been seen in 130 years of record-keeping.

7. Down on the Farm

Farmers had one of the most challenging and stressful growing seasons ever as they battled floods, heavy and untimely rains, frozen grounds, cool weather, recurrent hailers, the threat of an early frost and summer snows. As a consequence, production levels were down 15 to 30 per cent from last year’s record numbers. Quality and prices were also down. As much as five million acres went unplanted owing to inclement weather. It seemed that every time fields became dry enough to seed, another 10 to 25 mm of rain would soak the ground. Following a touch of frost in mid-September, farmers returned to their harvesting only to be met with more rain and heavy dew. In southern Alberta, farmers had crops that were flattened by snow. The only savior was dry, sunny and warm weather in late September and into October that helped fields dry out and farmers to salvage a decent growing season.

Several areas were hit with damaging hail more than once during the growing season, and storms were so violent and expansive that the average claim in 2014 was up 42 per cent from last year. In the end, hail, frost and blowdown cost Alberta farm producers dearly in 2014 – $500 million to be exact.

8. Snowstorm from the West

From November 28 to 29, a sopping-wet Pacific weather system moved slowly across Alberta dumping sizable snowfalls over 24 to 36 hours. Blowing snow and poor visibility led to treacherous driving, especially along Highway 2, which is the main road linking Edmonton and Calgary. In the mountain parks, wind gusts of up to 110 km/h and avalanche warnings weren’t enough to keep skiers and snowboarders away from the massive snows, including 75 cm in Marmot Basin and Kananaskis Village. For Saskatchewan, the storm dumped the heaviest snows in two years – between 15 and 25 cm.

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British Columbia - Regional Highlights

  1. Deadly Avalanches
  2. Snow Drought on Mount Washington
  3. Winter Comes to Lotus Land
  4. October Weather Wallop
  5. Stormy Season Underway

1. Deadly Avalanches

Winter 2013-14 brought 13 fatalities due to avalanches in British Columbia and Alberta, including snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, hikers, and a father and son who had gone tobogganing. Up from six deaths last year, it was close to the 10-year average of 12 fatalities. Conditions in the mountains were troublesome at times, with deep snow making it difficult to locate weaker underlying layers that are associated with unstable layers conducive to snowslides. Avalanche conditions in February were the worst in years. Sustained dry weather had created an underlying snow layer featuring a hard, smooth surface. New snows of up to two metres fell on top and began compacting but didn’t stick well to the slabs underneath.

2. Snow Drought on Mount Washington

While much of the rest of North America was caught up in a polar vortex deep-freeze, the West Coast was unseasonably mild and at times shrouded in fog. The impact to ski resorts was felt widely, including the mid-January closing of  Mount Washington ski resort due to lack of snow that involved lay-offs of more than 400 workers. On January 5, 2013, the resort had about 350 cm of snow; this year it had 20 cm.

3. Winter Comes to Lotus Land

Snow blanketed several cities along the coast of British Columbia on February 23-24, challenging highways crews but thrilling skiers with the winter’s first substantial snowfall. Vancouver International Airport recorded 15 cm of new snow, while about 25,000 people on southern Vancouver Island lost electricity. In Victoria, the airport was forced to delay and cancel flights because crews had run out of a year’s supply of de-icing liquid in 48 hours. The blast of winter weather came as the city began its famed week-long flower count – an event intended to poke fun at other provinces still in the deep freeze of winter.

4. October Weather Wallop

British Columbia was hit by a series of wind and rain storms during the last ten days of October that featured flash floods and mudslides. The storms lined up over the northern Pacific and struck daily. A blast on October 27 – the remains of tropical storm Ana – knocked down trees and caused road closures, ferry delays and power outages. Wind gusts of up to 90 km/h forced BC Ferries to delay early-morning sailings between Vancouver and Nanaimo. Peak winds of 116 km/h were recorded at Saturna Island, while Port Mellon received the heaviest rains at129 mm. At its height, the severe weather left almost 80,000 BC Hydro customers without electricity overnight.

5. Stormy Season Underway

A strong system pounded Metro Vancouver, the province’s south coast, the Fraser Valley and Howe Sound on November 3 with up to 85 mm of rain. The heavy precipitation led to a torrent of water rushing down mountainsides, overflowing several creeks and culverts, flooding homes and forcing evacuations. A few days later, another storm dropped more than 30 mm in Vancouver. The November rains followed above-average amounts of 184 mm that fell in October.

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The North - Regional Highlights

  1. Yukon Chinook
  2. Smoke, Ash and Lightning Produce Red Haze
  3. Nunavut Rains

1. Yukon Chinook

Record temperatures prevailed across the Yukon during the final week of January. Very warm air descended the slopes of nearby mountains, undergoing dramatic warming on its way. Fort Liard was 14.8°C – some 31 degrees warmer than normal and more than 7 degrees warmer than the previous daily record set in 1977. On January 24, Burwash shattered Yukon’s all-time record high maximum temperatures for any day in January at 16.5°C, eclipsing its previous record of 9.5°C in 2009. With a week before the start of the 2014 Yukon Quest, this year’s race was looking to be one of the soggiest on record.

2. Smoke, Ash and Lightning Produce Red Haze

Smoke and falling ash from extensive territorial wildfires combined to cloak Yellowknife in a thick red haze late on July 30. At the same time, a northerly cold front swung through the southern Mackenzie Valley and triggered a number of dry lightning thunderstorms. Flashes of lightning filtered through the smoke and ash, giving the sky an eerie, deep red tinge.

3. Nunavut Rains

On August 17, rains spread northward across southern Baffin Island associated with a slow-moving low pressure system. The depression dumped between 20 and 40 mm of rain in many locations, including Baker Lake, Pangnirtung and Kimmirut.

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