Canada's top ten weather stories of 2008

Canadians are some of the most weather-conversant people in the world. We talk about weather more than any other subject. Our weather was anything but boring or unimportant. For example, the thinning and shrinking of Arctic sea ice may not have grabbed headlines, but in many ways its accelerated disappearance was more shocking and worrisome than the year before. And while Canada continued to shrink in the North, Western Canadians proved their mettle as a winter people by beating back a brutal cold spell in late January. Easterners were no less heroic, having to shovel and plough record snowfalls. For snow enthusiasts, it was white gold for most of the winter, but the added weight of snow and ice brought down several roofs, which led to four deaths. The worst snowstorm of the winter was the last one, unleashing its payload on the get-away weekend in March when many residents were trying to head south for some recovery time.

Unfortunately, relief wasn't found in warmer weather. For every region of Canada, it was the summer of our discontent. Residents on the Prairies witnessed a record number of weather warnings due to tornadoes, intense rainfalls, wind storms and hail storms. Crop-hail losses approached $350 million on the Prairies and hailstorms were also damaging in Ontario and British Columbia. Chilly weather in April was equally devastating for B.C. fruit growers. For the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands, it was one of the wettest summers on record, nearly 30 per cent wetter than normal, and in sharp contrast to the near-record dryness of the year before. Summer in the East was dismal and a downer because it rained hard and often.

Also on the list of this year's top Canadian weather events were major flooding in New Brunswick along the Saint John River – first in April and again in August – and the crippling ice storms that hit Prince Edward Island. The year 2008 also featured five major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. They were especially punishing to Cuba and Haiti, but largely spared Canada apart from some nuisance rains and major soakers in Saint John.

The news wasn't all bad, though! Our air was clearer than in most years; there were no summer blackouts; the pine beetle took a hit; it was a quiet year for wildfires; and there were fewer West Nile-carrying mosquitoes.

Shocking as it may seem, it was another warm year for Canada – our 12th year in a row – although not as warm as it has been in recent years. From January to November, the national average temperature was about 1.0°C above normal. Every region was warmer, especially the Eastern Arctic, which experienced its eighth-warmest January-to-November period on record. It was also the third-warmest summer on record at one degree warmer than normal. In the North, most districts reported their second- or third-warmest summer on record (some 1.5 degrees above the norm). On the other hand, much of British Columbia registered a cooler-than-normal summer – the coolest in 23 years. Countrywide, fall was the sixth warmest at roughly 1.4 degrees above the average.

Canada's warmer weather was not exactly in step with the rest of the world. Globally, 2008 had the coolest average temperature since 2000 and was approximately 0.14°C below the average temperature for 2001-2007. The global combined sea-surface and land-surface air temperature for 2008 was cooler than most recent years, largely owing to a strong La Niña. This is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Niña developed during summer 2007 and reached its peak strength in early 2008. Despite the cooling off, 2008 globally was 0.3 degrees above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.0°C. Indeed, 2008 was the 10th warmest year in the 159-year record. The hottest was 1998, followed by 2005, 2003 and 2002. According to the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, the global average temperature has risen about three times faster since 1976, compared to that for the past 100 years. Now into the 21st century, global temperatures are more than 0.75°C above those at the beginning of the 20th century.

The following top Canadian weather stories for 2008 are rated 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 for 2008

  1. The East's Big Summer Soak
  2. The Great Arctic Thaw Continues
  3. A Never-Ending Winter
  4. Saint John River Floods From Top to Bottom
  5. Pre-Winter Shockers
  6. Hail of a Summer for Growers
  7. Winter's Last Hurrah
  8. Hanna and Her Brothers
  9. The Coldest Place on Earth
  10. PE-Ice Storms

Runner-up stories for 2008

Regional highlights

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