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Canada's Top Ten Weather Stories for 2008

Table of Contents

8. Hanna And Her Brothers

Map of Canada with affected regions highlighted

Hurricane experts foresaw another active Atlantic hurricane season in 2008 and they were right on the money. From Arthur to Paloma, 16 named storms formed in the Atlantic basin, well above the long-term average of 11. Half the storms were full-blown hurricanes, compared to a normal of six storms, with five logged as major at Category 3 or higher: Bertha, Gustav, Ike, Omar and Paloma. The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be considered one of the most devastating, with many casualties and widespread destruction in the Caribbean, Central America and the United States. For the first time on record, six consecutive tropical storms made landfall in the United States and a record three major hurricanes struck Cuba. The busy storm season reflected a continuation of above-normal activity that began in 1995.

Tropical Storm Cristobal was Atlantic Canada's first major tropical system of the season. As it approached the Maritimes on July 21, it reached its maximum intensity with sustained winds near 110 km/h. The storm soaked southern Nova Scotia, spilling a month's worth of rain on some coastal areas in less than 24 hours as it merged with a stationary front. Baccaro Point (just to the southwest of Shelburne) got the most rain with 165 mm from Cristobal and the front; Western Head received 127 mm; and Halifax got 42 mm. The heavy rains flooded basements, washed out roads and caused hydroplaning on local highways. Cristobal's strongest winds remained well off shore.

After Hurricane Hanna slammed into Haiti in early September, killing more than 175 people and leaving thousands more homeless, the storm moved north, brushing the Carolinas and eastern New England. Hanna soaked New York City with a month's worth of rain in just a few hours. For most Maritimers, Hanna was more of a nuisance, spoiling an early September weekend. However, that was certainly not the case along the Bay of Fundy shoreline. For Saint Johners, Hanna was a real drencher – 145 mm of rain fell over 14 hours spanning two days. September 7 was the wettest September day on record (104.4 mm) and the fifth-wettest day ever – approaching a once-in-a-100-year event. Several washed streets in the downtown were left in waist-deep water. Overland flooding filled hundreds of basements with dirty sewer water to the depth of a metre or more. In the rural Maritimes, grounds already saturated from heavy August rains worried farmers who were unable to operate heavy machinery without damaging fields. The storm had little left for Newfoundland and Labrador. The greatest rainfall occurred in Burgeo (70 mm) and the strongest winds were recorded in the Wreckhouse area (wind gusts of 81 km/h).

Hurricane Ike was a killer and destroyer and the most costly hurricane of 2008: a Category 4 with maximum sustained winds near 230 km/h. Its track brought it across the Caribbean and Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico, where it brought flooding and a damaging storm surge to the Texas coast. The storm weakened as it moved inland across Eastern Texas and Arkansas and then toward the Great Lakes basin, but its remains still produced wind gusts of hurricane force as far north as Ohio. On September 14 and 15, Ike's leftovers arrived over Lake Huron, where it brought significant amounts of rain. Stiff winds tangled power lines and toppled branches and trees along the immediate shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The day before, a slow-moving storm system with Pacific Ocean origins primed the province with some drenching, day-long rains. The combined rainfall amounted to 125 mm near Sarnia; 96 mm in Windsor; 91 mm in Mount Forest and 51 mm in Parry Sound.

Ike also dumped copious amounts of rain in Quebec, including 67 mm at La Verendrye in 20 hours; 58 mm in 19 hours at Quebec City; 58 mm in 19 hours at Baie-Comeau; and 70 mm in 17 hours at Bagotville. In some built-up areas, several basements were flooded and stretches of roads were submerged. It wasn't Ike's winds or rain that created the greatest impact in Quebec. The high humidities associated with the tropical air mass led to a major stoppage on the Montreal subway system. According to officials at the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), the malfunction was caused by the condensation of humidity on electrical equipment. The humidity (dew point) in the air mass reached 24°C in Montreal – a very rare occurrence, since only once in 55 years has such a high value been recorded there.

Still drying out from Hanna, counties around the Bay of Fundy took another tropical hit when Hurricane Kyle struck at the end of September. Early on September 27, the storm passed well to the west of Bermuda and became a hurricane later that day. It accelerated northward and moved over western Nova Scotia the next day. Kyle was at marginal hurricane strength when it came ashore just north of Yarmouth and well east of Saint John, New Brunswick. The storm dumped significant rainfalls on the Gaspé Peninsula and Lower North Shore of Quebec. Cap-d'Espoir recorded 74 mm of rain in 31 hours. Once again, Point Lepreau was drenched when 68 mm of rain fell on September 27 and 28. Baccaro Point posted the strongest gusts at 124 km/h, although a Canadian Coast Guard vessel reported a wind gust of 154 km/h off the coast of Shelburne. These winds caused minor structural damage and blew down a number of large trees in Shelburne. Kyle's impact was blunted by the relatively cool 15°C waters of the Atlantic Ocean. However, its force caused thousands of Nova Scotia Power customers to lose electricity and more rains added to farmers' growing concerns that they were unable to get on the land to begin the harvest. Fortunately, Kyle was well publicized and because it arrived on the fifth anniversary of the infamous Hurricane Juan, Maritimers were ready for the storm, thus minimizing its impact.