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Canada's Top Ten Weather Stories for 2008

Table of Contents

Regional Weather Highlights 2008


Strong Winds End January Thaw
On January 9, a fast-moving cold front ripped through southern Ontario, bringing an abrupt end to the winter thaw. In Prince Edward County, wind gusts exceeded 130 km/h, knocking down tree limbs and power lines, and tearing shingles and siding from buildings. Approximately 140,000 homes and businesses in Ontario lost power. At the Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport winds flipped over two light planes. Fierce winds also sent spent Christmas trees airborne, scattered recycling boxes, and forced a large section of downtown Toronto to be closed when debris started plummeting from 58 stories above to the streets below. Tens of thousands of people who work in Toronto's financial district were forced underground. GO Transit commuters were also delayed because chain-link fencing and other debris blew onto tracks.

Highway 400 Wrecking Yard
On January 20, a highly localized squall turned Highway 400 north of Toronto into a parking lot of twisted metal, trapping several people in their vehicles in bitter cold. More than 100 vehicles were involved in chain-reaction accidents caused by blinding, wind-whipped whiteouts. It was snowing so hard that conditions resembled dense fog. Dozens of people were injured in the crashes, but no one was killed, in part because poor visibility had already forced drivers to slow down. Buses were brought in to remove shivering folks stuck in sub-zero temperatures that were made even colder by fierce winds.

Province-wide Power Outages
At the end of January, the combination of wicked winter chill, strong winds, and whiteout conditions left about 90,000 Hydro One customers in southern and central Ontario without electricity. The strongest winds were recorded in Niagara's Port Colborne at 126 km/h. Snow and violent winds shut down most of Sault Ste. Marie, including schools, community centres, malls, transit and restaurants. North of London, strong winds took out trees and power lines and caused numerous whiteouts and road closures. Waves in the open waters of Lake Erie's eastern basin were as high as 6 m. At Crystal Beach, wind-whipped waves drove water and chunks of shore ice some as much as a metre in diameter through living room windows.

Groundhog Storm
Following the passage of a sharp cold front on February 1, another "old-fashioned" winter storm walloped much of southern and eastern Ontario with 30 cm of snow, freezing rain, ice pellets, and wind gusts of 70 km/h in sub-zero temperatures on Groundhog Day. Ontario Provincial Police responded to hundreds of minor crashes on area highways the vast majority single-car spinouts into ditches or guardrails. The storm forced the cancellation of more than 150 flights at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

April Flooding Less Than Feared
In early April, a warm-air assault on a near-record snowpack led to a high flood risk along many watercourses in southern Ontario. Highway 26 near Collingwood was nearly impassable in places, and rising waters near a school in Wasaga Beach trapped students and staff inside. In the Chatham London area, a forecast of heavy rains brought the potential for the worst flooding in 30 years. Rains were less than forecast, however, and peak flows were less than expected. Still, many backyards and basements were flooded. By mid-April, Belleville was under a state of emergency as raging waters from the Moira River closed roads and threatened hundreds of homes in the area's worst flooding since 1981. Authorities handed out 36,000 sandbags to help homeowners protect their properties. Six families were evacuated and more than 145 others were told to be prepared to leave. With massive flooding on the Otonabee River in south Peterborough, some residents there faced evacuation for the fourth time in 2008.

Evacuation Exhausion
At the end of April, rapidly rising waters on the ice-choked Albany River threatened to flood the northern Ontario communities of Kashechewan and Fort Albany once again. It was the fourth time since 2004 that Kashechewan had to be evacuated because of flooding. About 1.2 m of water lapped at homes, the airport and the local hospital. Rain, fog and a snowstorm delayed a mass airlift of beleaguered residents.

Thunder Bay Thunderstorm
A cluster of thunderstorms churned through Thunder Bay and surrounding area on June 6, dumping between 70 and 80 mm of rain. Several communities were left in a state of chaos when portions of highways and secondary roads were washed away, rendering them inaccessible and forcing, a state of emergency to be declared. Nearly $2 million in damages occurred to roads and other infrastructure. The day's downpour threatened the single-day record for June, but was far off the all-time 24-hour drenching of 131.2 mm. June's total rainfall in Thunder Bay amounted to a record 194.4 mm; normal is 85.7 mm. Geraldton also had a new June record of 148 mm compared to a normal of 86 mm.

Windsor Wet… Windsor Dry
Windsor had its wettest June on record, with an estimated 172 mm of rain, beating the previous record of 162 mm in 1960 and far exceeding the total of 65 mm in June 2007. Along with the record amount of rain, Windsor–Essex had an unusually high number of rainy days--19 days of rain plus 4 days with trace amounts. Nine days featured thunderstorms, totalling 19 hours. The good news? There was only one smog day in June.

In sharp contrast August had only 9.4 mm of rain, the lowest monthly rainfall for Windsor on record. The city normally sees about 80 mm in August. Dryness characterized the latter half of the summer. From July 16 to August 31, a measly 37.6 mm of rain fell at the city's airport. Typically, Windsor should get about 121 mm. Even more shocking, the previous six weeks were among the wettest ever. About 225 mm of rain drenched Windsor from June 1 to 15. Such all-time extremes of the same element occurring in opposite directions in the same season are rarely seen.

Soaker Storms in Kitchener-Waterloo
A couple of drenching storms, the heaviest in years, created major July flooding in Kitchener–Waterloo, already saturated by 12 days of rain in two weeks. Excessive rains (54 mm on July 11th and 50 mm on July 22) turned creeks and streams into raging rivers in the Grand River basin. Flood waters forced the closure of several roads, trapping dozens of motorists. Lightning strikes knocked out power to about 6,000 customers in Kitchener. A number of parks, playing fields, and baseball diamonds were saturated and remained closed for several days. Combined with high winds, the storms tore down trees, hydro lines and traffic lights. Falling tree limbs also made a mess of a city-run cemetery, snapping headstones and knocking over grave markers. At its peak, the storm dumped almost 35 mm of rain in an hour including the heaviest 15-minute rainfall recorded at the University of Waterloo weather station in its 10-year history.

Pre-Halloween Winter Storm
A couple of days before the end of October, thousands of residents in Ontario and Quebec woke up to between 10 and 20 cm of wet snow and strong winds. The storm was whipped up by a fierce nor'easter on the east coast of the United States that dragged arctic air across the Great Lakes. Driving conditions were treacherous in zero visibility; however, drivers seemed to exercise surprising care during winter's first blast. High winds and heavy snows falling on trees still thick with leaves wreaked havoc on hydro in eastern Ontario.

Lake-Effect Squalls Strand Motorists near London
Waist-deep snow and treacherous driving conditions occurred at Strathroy on a stretch of highway between London and Sarnia on November 21. Dozens of motorists were stranded and were forced to hunker down for a night on the road. Police used snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles to reach victims. Between 50 and 70 cm of snow blew off Lake Huron, burying cars and residents in a classic lake-effect mini-blizzard. Several roads blocked by stranded vehicles and drifted snow were impassable. The local squall generated 12 hours of whiteouts and drifts a metre high. Near London, about 25 cm of snow created chaos on the Highway 401 corridor, but that was nothing compared to the mayhem that occurred near Strathroy, west of London.