Canada's top ten weather stories of 2013
- 2013 - A Year in Review
- 1. Alberta's Flood of Floods
- 2. Toronto's Torrent
- 3. Bumper Crops in the West, So-So for the Rest
- 4. The Nightmare during Christmas
- 5. To Flood or Not to Flood?
- 6. Rebound in the Arctic Ocean and the Great Lakes
- 7. Wicked Winter Weather Wallops the East
- 8. Spring Flooding in Ontario’s Cottage Country
- 9. Prairie Winter Went on Forever
- 10. Stormy Seas and Maritime Tragedy
- Runner-up Stories
- Atlantic Regional Highlights
- Quebec - Regional Highlights
- Ontario - Regional Highlights
- Prairie Provinces - Regional Highlights
- British Columbia - Regional Highlights
- The North - Regional Highlights
- Sunny and Rainless in BC
- Newfoundland’s Old-time Blizzard
- Early February Atlantic Storm
- Highway Mayhem near Edmonton
- Fort McMurray Flooding
- Manitoba’s Wild July Storms
- Few Wildfires but Large Burn
- Eastern Canada’s Short Summer
- Fogtober on the Pacific Coast
- American Thanksgiving Storm Blows into Canada
- Quiet Storm Season Surprises Hurricane Forecasters
- Classic Prairie Blizzard
1. Sunny and Rainless in BC
It is hard to imagine a better month of weather along the Pacific coast than in July 2013, which featured continuous sunshine and not a single drop of rain in either Vancouver or Victoria. The long stretch of perfect weather actually began around the first day of summer on June 21 thanks to a massive ridge of high pressure that sat stationary over the West coast and relentlessly pumped cloudless desert air from the southwest United States into British Columbia. On the south coast and in the BC Interior, daily temperatures soared in late June with little cooling during the short summer nights. Several stations set record warm overnight lows, including 16.5°C at Vancouver and 15.9°C at Victoria on June 29 that eclipsed records set in 2008. And on June 28, afternoon temperatures soared above 42°C in Kamloops, Lytton and Osoyoos.
July was Vancouver’s sunniest on record with almost 411 hours of bright sunshine, surpassing the 388-hour record set in 1985 (sunshine recordings began in 1953). Further, “Raincouver” set a record for its driest July, having never gone an entire month without at least a trace of rain (i.e. less than 0.2 mm). Even a July with only traces of rain is relatively rare with only two instances since record-keeping began: six traces in 1951 and two in 1985. The city’s dry spell began on June 28 and lasted 34 days – a good stretch but no comparison to Vancouver’s two longest rain-free summers. The most recent lasted 52 days during Expo 86 – between July 18 and September 7 – and included two trace amounts; the other ran a little longer with 58 rain-free days between June 14 and August 10, 1951 and six traces.
Victoria also broke and tied records for its sunniest and driest months, with 432.8 hours of bright sunshine and zero rainfall respectively. July was the sunniest month ever with records dating back to 1968. And at Victoria International Airport, no rainfall was measured in July – not even a trace. It was only the second time that there had been a rain-free July. The first was in 1958 when there were no days with measureable rain or traces over 33 days from June 30 to August 1. Several other cities in the province set records for their driest July in 2013: Vernon experienced 1.1 mm of rain; Revelstoke 6.2 mm; and Kamloops had a mere wetting at 0.6 mm. Adding to July’s spectacle were unexpectedly comfortable temperatures given the record dry and sunny skies. In Vancouver, temperatures averaged 18.3°C – a mere 0.3°C warmer than normal.
July’s delightful weather was good news for restaurants with patios but left many scrambling to find enough staff to work the overflow traffic. On the flip side, typical foul-weather venues such as museums, malls and movie theatres experienced a dip in attendance. The lack of rain was also a boon for beach lovers and campers, although it did put Vancouver Island and the BC Lower Mainland on a high forest-fire alert. Surprisingly, the water supply in Greater Vancouver was only slightly lower than previous years with reservoir water levels at 85 per cent and no air-quality advisories were issued for the region.
As a side note, Vancouver just squeaked into the record books. Within minutes of rain-free July coming to an end, the skies opened up making it a very close call.
2. Newfoundland’s Old-time Blizzard
On January 9, a slow-moving Atlantic storm situated over the Gulf of St. Lawrence began tracking south of Newfoundland and Labrador, powering up as it moved over the Grand Banks. Widespread storm conditions, reminiscent of nasty blizzards of the past, persisted over the eastern portion of the province for three days beginning on January 10. The storm caused whiteouts and heavy drifting, prompting police to urge drivers to stay off the roads. In St. John’s, life came to a virtual standstill as residents soon got buried in waist-deep snows. Intercity bus service was disrupted. Scores of schools, businesses, clinics and government offices closed early. The winds tore roofs from buildings and kept ferries tied up at wharfs. Amidst high winds of 110 km/h and record snows, St. John’s International Airport shut down affecting 160 flights and 8,000 passengers. A lack of power at the water treatment plant caused concerns over water quality. For 70,000 residents from the Avalon and Burin peninsulas in the east to Corner Brook on the west side of the Island, power went out leaving some customers without lights and heat for more than three days. The strongest winds blew on Sagona Island at 139 km/h. Snow-clearing crews faced the arduous task of removing 52 cm of snow off roadways only to have it blow back into two-metre drifts. When the weather turned milder with freezing drizzle and rain, snow on the ground became heavy, slowing clean-up efforts. St. John’s director of Public Works and Parks said it was one of the worst storms he’d seen in his 18-year career.
3. Early February Atlantic Storm
A low-pressure centre that developed south of Nova Scotia on February 4 intensified as it passed east of Cape Breton, bringing an assortment of messy precipitation and high winds to Atlantic Canada. By evening, the storm tracked over southwestern Newfoundland and the next day through Central Labrador. Ahead of the storm’s centre, some Maritime locations reported rain and freezing rain that later turned to snow and blowing snow. Snowfall amounts ranged from 20 to 30 cm, with higher amounts in northern Nova Scotia and more than 50 cm in the Cobequid Hills. The inclement weather forced the cancellation of several community events, led to school and retail closures, the suspension of countless flights and the halting of ferry services. Winds were highest in southwestern Nova Scotia, with the strongest measured at 164 km/h south of Yarmouth in Woods Harbour. Along the south shore, a storm surge topped with high waves caused flooding; in Halifax a high water level of 2.76 metres was among the top five ever recorded in the harbour. Moving along, the storm struck Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula but saved its biggest wallop for Labrador with winds topping 113 km/h and snowfall totals of 53 cm at Goose Bay and 63 cm at Nain. After-effects of the storm included coastal flooding (storm surge coincident with high tides) in the Burin Peninsula, school closings, the halting of ferry crossings for two days and widespread power outages – especially in the Northern Peninsula.
4. Highway Mayhem near Edmonton
On the first full day of spring, a slow-moving upper low parked itself over central Alberta initiating a prolonged period of heavy snow. Weather observing stations in west Edmonton and Stoney Plain recorded 25 cm of snow, while northwest of the city Westlock was hit with more than 40 cm. Near Edmonton International Airport, strong northwesterly winds gusting to 50 km/h created whiteout conditions on Highway 2 at Leduc. The storm happened on one of the busiest days of the year, when spring break travel makes the airport almost as busy as Christmas. Owing to the poor visibility and icy road surfaces, the RCMP closed a 60-km stretch of the highway where dozens of cars, trucks and semi-trailers had either jackknifed across the highway or swerved across shoulders to avoid further wreckage in chain-reaction mayhem involving more than 100 vehicles. One eighteen-wheeler caught in the carnage was carrying 74 head of cattle. Firefighters commandeered seven buses on the highway and used them as temporary shelters and a triage centre, while paramedics treated more than 100 injuries and area hospitals were placed on Code Orange. Efforts to shovel the blowing snow and clear the twisted metal lasted for three days. At the same time, a head-on collision in Westlock tragically killed three people.
5. Fort McMurray Flooding
During the second week of June, several days of heavy rains from a slow-moving weather system dumped between 80 and 180 mm of rain in and around Fort McMurray, Alberta. On June 8 and 9, a month’s worth of rain fell in just two days. At the same time, unseasonably warm temperatures triggered a rapid snow melt that left the cold ground saturated with surplus water that had nowhere to go. Local rivers burst their sides, eroding huge chunks of river bank, and the Hangingstone River – which flows through Fort McMurray – reached its highest level in 100 years. Fast-moving waters covered highways with oozing mud and debris and pockmarked road surfaces with sinkholes. Engineers moved quickly to install concrete barriers along river sides to prevent further erosion. Regional roads became partially impassible and rushing waters washed out a bridge south of Fort McMurray and inundated two major parks and several neighbourhoods in the city. Rising waters also cut off travel to and from the Athabasca oil sands. Officials declared a local state of emergency and a boil water order for Fort McMurray and surrounding areas, and 500 residents were evacuated from a local trailer park and nearby homes when basements flooded and streets became impassable.
6. Manitoba’s Wild July Storms
A line of wild thunderstorms, including two tornadoes, ripped through southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba on July 13 and 14. Hail piled 12 cm deep was still visible three hours later. In Saskatchewan, the storm packed quite a wallop with grapefruit-sized hail, punishing winds and flooding rains. In the Rural Municipality of Pipestone, Manitoba, fierce winds ripped away roofs, snapped power lines, toppled trees onto cars and demolished a portion of the town’s arena. Golf ball-sized hail smashed through car windows and caused 400 hectares of crop losses. Hailstorm damage was so severe that some areas experienced 100 per cent crop loss and the greatest total losses for the year from severe weather. Reston, Manitoba saw 42 mm of rain fall in less than an hour. On July 15, it was the second time in just three days that severe storms pummelled parts of southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba drenching roads, damaging property and triggering tornadoes. Environment Canada confirmed that four tornadoes touched down southeast of Regina near Kronau and Gray, west of Yorkton and north of Humboldt, where they destroyed grain bins and damaged a barn. On July 18, a tornado touched down in the Sioux Valley First Nation community west of Brandon. Winds tore the roof off a house and uprooted several trees on a golf course near Shilo. Three days later yet another tornado touched down in southwest Manitoba between the communities of Deloraine and Boissevain, not far from where another tornado blew a few days earlier and where a tornado hit Pipestone a week earlier. The latest storm featured both twisting and straight-line winds estimated up to 170 km/h that flattened crops, snapped trees and unroofed buildings.
7. Few Wildfires but Large Burn
It was quiet on the forest fire front in 2013. There were no catastrophic wildfires and according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, the number of wildfires recorded by September 1 was relatively low – 5,654 compared to the 10-year average of 6,750. But the number of fires alone didn’t tell the whole story; the area on fire was well above normal with 3,646,304 hectares burning compared to the 10-year average of 1,942,073 hectares. With fires it’s all about location, location, location. This year’s hot spots were in remote and isolated regions away from valuable commercial timber. In fact, most of the fires occurred in the two western territories and the northern reaches of the provinces, as well as specific locations in the Maritimes and British Columbia. The majority were allowed to burn on their own without immediate and aggressive attack or suppression.
Hot and dry conditions (the driest in 40 years) through June and early July in central and northern Quebec triggered an outbreak of wildfires in the James Bay area. In late June, the threat of fires and thick smoke prompted the evacuation of hundreds of residents from a couple of mine sites and five communities, the largest being Eastmain. Officials closed the main highway to James Bay, which hampered delivery of food and other supplies to village stores. On July 3 and 4, fires threatened hydro transmission lines when smoke particles triggered numerous power failures. The automatic shutdowns caused a cascading effect on the province’s power grid, including an evening rush-hour closure of the Montreal metro system. Several buildings in the city’s core, including hospitals and the stock exchange tower, had to be evacuated. Smoke from blazes blanketed Québec City and Montréal and reached as far south as Toronto and east to Halifax. Curiously, the only smog days in Ontario in 2013 were a direct result of fires from Quebec. Things settled down around July 10 when a storm brought 30 to 70 mm of rain, which was enough to extinguish flames in the Grande Rivière and Chibougamau regions.
In western Labrador, states of emergency were in effect for more than a week in June due to forest fires. On June 24, with persistent high winds fanning and spreading flames, fires forced people to evacuate cabins near Labrador City and closed the Trans-Canada Highway. When the blaze came within 8 km of Wabush Lake and thick smoke threatened people’s health, officials moved quickly to evacuate 2,000 residents. The smoke also drifted into the Maritimes prompting health and air quality warnings.
For residents of Perth-Andover, New Brunswick early June usually brings threats of ice jamming or spring flooding. Not this year! A major wildfire raged in a province that was bone dry after an unusually hot spring and almost two weeks without rain. The arrival of cool, wet weather on June 8 was greeted with a collective sigh of relief by provincial firefighters.
Not long after the last traces of snow melted away in early May, Alberta sprang into wildfire vigilance. With record temperatures, gusty winds, tinder-dry brush and grass that hadn’t yet greened up, the province’s wildfire crews were on high alert. The threat was especially high in the central and northwestern parts of the province. On May 12, about 200 residents from Nordegg and Lodgepole were evacuated to Rocky Mountain House as blazes edged close to the two communities. But just as flames came close to the nationally historic Brazeau Collieries mine site, cool rains and light winds calmed things down.
British Columbia should have been on fire given record sunny and dry conditions in early and mid-summer. The fact it was not hot and lightning-filled saved the day and kept fire crews watching but not fighting. Following July’s record dry sunny weather, however, the forest fire threat grew dramatically when lightning started striking in early August. Campfire bans were in effect along the coast and in southeastern parts of the province, as well as in Kamloops and the Cariboo. Because August rains were a mere spritzing, the fire danger remained high to extreme. The provincial Wildfire Management Branch responded to 1,818 wildfires across the province but very few posed threats to people and nearby infrastructure.
Firefighters in Yukon and the Northwest Territories had a busy year owing to warm and dry conditions during spring and summer and late into September. For example, spring precipitation in the Mackenzie basin was the third driest in 66 years. At times, the fire danger rating was high in the Yukon, prompting the public to exercise caution around campfires. In the Northwest Territories, the fire season started earlier and lasted longer than usual. All regions in the territory were very dry and at times hot, which meant fire behaviour was more extreme and fires more difficult to extinguish as they burned deep in the forest duff layer of leaves, twigs and other organic materials. Several of the fires were close to communities and threatened infrastructure. One fire in early September melted fibre optic cables that caused phone and internet disruptions. On occasion, Yellowknifers could smell smoke from nearby wildfires.
8. Eastern Canada’s Short Summer
Canadians in the East were beginning to think summer would never come. Spoiled by last year’s scorcher − the warmest on record in 65 years of observations – this year seemed like a cruel joke with hot weather showing up for only one week in July and a brief encore in September. Due to cool days at the beginning and end of the season, it marked one of the shortest warm seasons in years. For those few days when it was hot, it was sizzling and stifling over Ontario, Quebec and parts of Atlantic Canada. Complaints of ‘where is summer’ to ‘too much summer’ came fast and furious.
Summer’s brief appearance was credited to a Bermuda high pressure centre positioned farther north and west that pushed southerly winds with heat and humidity from the Gulf of Mexico northward. Between July 15 and 19, humidex readings in Ontario and Quebec exceeded the uncomfortable and unhealthy level of 40 for several hours each day and the UV index hit 10 and above more often than not. Officials urged people to check on neighbours – especially the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. The season’s first, longest and only heat wave sent paramedics scrambling and overloaded emergency rooms as temperatures soared to 35°C and night-time readings stayed consistently above 20°C. Given the extreme heat advisories, it was surprising that there were no smog days. Ontario had only two smog days in 2013 compared to 30 the year before. In southern Quebec, daytime temperatures reached 30 to 35°C for seven consecutive days between Gatineau and Gaspé and did not drop below 20°C for several nights. The hot spot was Beauport, a suburb of Quebéc City, which registered a steamy 38.6°C on July 15. Two deaths in Quebec possibly connected with the extreme heat were investigated by health officials. The province’s heat wave came to an end on July 19 when a severe thunderstorm knocked out the hot and humid weather. At the height of the storm, 500,000 homes were without power. Winds of over 100 km/h knocked over trees, which damaged power lines and structures and caused one death in Boucherville.
They were feeling the heat early in July in New Brunswick when 16 weather records were set between July 5 and 6 – many being high daily minimum temperatures. Adding to the steamy heat was evaporation from weeks of excessive rain. At Fredericton, officials wisely cancelled the “changing of the guard” ceremony owing to the heat. The early warmth was a rehearsal for a more intense heat burst 10 days later when temperatures soared to the mid-30s. At Kouchibouguac, the local weather station recorded a high of 37.3°C. That was only 2.1°C away from the highest temperature ever set in the province on August 18, 1935, when both Woodstock and Rexton reached a broiling 39.4°C. The extreme hot and dry weather prompted restrictions on burning and campfires in numerous parks. Nova Scotia and PEI were also embroiled in the excessive heat with temperatures at Summerside climbing to 33.7°C and to 34.6°C at both Bedford and Malay Falls. Newfoundland wasn’t left out in the cold. St. John’s recorded an astounding 31.2°C and a sultry humidex of 35 on July 15. It was the second highest temperature ever recorded in the provincial capital city.
Temperatures in the East cooled off after that, with the exception of a last blast of summer heat in the first part of September. Toronto’s medical officer of health issued a heat alert on September 10 as the temperature exceeded 34°C without the humidity – impressive at that late date. And four cities in southwestern Ontario from Windsor to Waterloo broke records for the highest maximum temperatures recorded for any day in September after the 10th. Sarnia was the hottest at 35.9°C.
An upside to the scarce summer was the relatively low number of West Nile virus cases. Only 105 people had tested positive for West Nile virus infection by October 5, down from more than 400 at the same time last year. A cool spring and so-so summer with less heat and sunshine is not ideal for mosquito breeding. The weather also tempted fewer people to spend time outdoors which meant less exposure to mosquitoes.
9. Fogtober on the Pacific Coast
Thick fog blanketed British Columbia's Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island for a week to 10 days in mid-October, making for one of the longest periods of fog ever seen in the region during that month. A stationary, strong ridge of high pressure stalled over the coast trapping air rich in moisture at the surface. With minimal wind and little rain, there was nothing to blow or wash the fog away. At times, day-time warming would thin the fog and low cloud allowing for the occasional sunny break. But with the onset of nightfall, cool overnight temperatures would serve to build it right back up again. Above the cloud deck, in places like Burnaby Mountain, conditions were mostly clear. Inland the fog wreaked havoc leading to some early morning accidents that included one fatality. It also forced the cancellation of dozens of ferry trips, and was responsible for hundreds of flight delays and cancellations. The stagnant air mass led to extensive fog and patchy drizzle through many of the province’s interior valleys. Vancouver recorded thick fog with visibility below 1 km on eight of nine days for 122 hours between October 17 and 25. This included a string of 45 consecutive hours with “pea soup” fog. On average, Vancouver experiences this type of fog for only 16 hours in October. Conditions in Victoria mirrored that of Vancouver, which amounted to three times its usual October total.
10. American Thanksgiving Storm Blows into Canada
A sprawling moist storm tracked along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States on November 26 and 27, spreading heavy snows into Eastern Ontario and Quebec and drenching rains and blustery winds across Atlantic Canada. The storm had a much bigger impact south of the border given that an estimated 37 million Americans were heading home for Thanksgiving on what is typically the busiest travel week of the year. A nasty mess of rain, ice pellets, snow and freezing rain from Texas to Maine clogged various interstate highways and grounded flights from Chicago to New York. Commuters in and around Toronto confronted an overnight dusting of wet snow and slush on November 27. Heading east, Oshawa snowfall amounts hit 10 cm and areas from Brighton to Brockville experienced up to 20 cm. Ottawa and surrounding areas took the brunt of the storm with up to 25 cm, which caused numerous school bus cancellations due to poor visibility and hazardous driving conditions. For many centres in Eastern Ontario and Quebec it was the first significant snowfall of the winter. Montréal was right on the cusp of rain, freezing rain and snow. And while Trudeau International Airport got half the snowfall total of Ottawa, areas west and north of the airport received between 20 and 30 cm. In Gaspé, it was 40 to 90 mm of rain and for Québec City, Charlevoix and Baie Comeau it was freezing rain that made for some very icy roads. Across eastern Quebec, winds howled with gusts clocked from 100 to 125 km/h at Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
The big storm then lashed Atlantic Canada with driving rain and high winds. Along the Atlantic coast, high wave warnings were issued. In New Brunswick, the storm started with snow – especially in the northern part of the province – but it was all rain in PEI and Nova Scotia and it was heavy at times. Power outages were reported in parts of all the Atlantic provinces, with 38,000 customers down in Nova Scotia alone. The storm also wreaked havoc on roadways and tangled up hundreds of flights and ferries, with winds restricting traffic across the Confederation Bridge. Among the locations most buffeted and soaked were: Saint John with 90 km/h wind gusts and 90 mm of rain; Newfoundland’s west coast where winds gusted up to 130 km/h, trees blew down and a number of schools were closed; and Corner Brook, where rain filled culverts and streams overflowed, and debris running in raging brooks caused blockages and overflows.
11. Quiet Storm Season Surprises Hurricane Forecasters
In the beginning, conditions seemed favourable for yet another busy hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States predicted as many as 20 named tropical storms over the next six months; between 7 and 11 of them hurricanes and 3 to 6 becoming major storms with winds in excess of 178 km/h. In fact, the season played out very differently. By the end of November, only 13 named tropical storms, from Andrea to Melissa, had formed and only two − Humberto and Ingrid – reached hurricane speeds. Both were in September and very weak. While 13 named storms is about average for a season, which spans June 1 to November 30, the number of hurricanes and major hurricanes was well below average. How inactive was the 2013 storm season? The last time we had one without a major hurricane was 1994 and it was the first time in 45 years that no storm made it beyond 153 km/h – the upper limit of wind speed for a Category 1 hurricane. It also featured the fewest hurricanes since 1982. Overall, it was the fifth weakest season since modern hurricane tracking began about half a century ago.
The start of the season was on track with the birth of Tropical Storm Andrea over the Gulf of Mexico on June 5. Two days later it evolved into a post-tropical storm. Throughout its life, it was almost exclusively a rain event. On June 8 and 9, Andrea tracked south of Newfoundland and Labrador bringing wet weather to much of the island. Generally, total storm rainfall reached between 40 and 50 mm; however, in some localities twice that amount fell. New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island was especially sodden after more than 90 mm of rain fell and Tantallon, near Peggy’s Cove, received the greatest rainfall at 132 mm. In Halifax, police responded to a number of collisions (mostly fender-benders) as water covered roads. Moderately strong winds gusting to 70 km/h temporarily knocked out power to thousands of customers across the Maritimes and, for a brief time, strong winds restricted high-sided vehicles from crossing the Confederation Bridge. In Newfoundland, the Burin Peninsula experienced the most rain from Storm Andrea with Winterland receiving 58 mm.
August was free of Atlantic hurricanes for only the sixth time since 1944. During September, tropical storm Gabrielle – the second tropical storm to affect residents of Atlantic Canada – departed Bermuda on the 11th. Like Andrea, Gabrielle was a rain event, soaking parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador. The storm dumped as much as 60 mm of rain on parts of Nova Scotia and winds gusted up to 70 km/h on the eastern mainland and Cape Breton Island. Rainfall totals were the greatest over Charlottetown (59 mm), Western Head (71 mm) and Parrsboro (73 mm). About the same time Humberto − one of the season’s only two hurricanes − remained 2,000 km offshore posing no threat to Canada or the United States. On September 13, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gabrielle combined with a broad area of low pressure over the Maritimes, yielding significant and highly variable rainfall to much of western and northern Newfoundland. Cow Head recorded the most precipitation − 75 mm of rain on September 13 and 14. The Northern Peninsula community of Englee followed close behind with a total of 74 mm.
Scientists suggested several reasons for tropical storm inactivity in 2013. Sea-surface temperatures were nowhere as warm as they were in 2012. Further, winds and pressure patterns were less favourable for the formation and growth of tropical storms. And upper-level air currents that push storms northward were farther east than usual this year, keeping many tropical storms out to sea and away from the North American coast. Also of note, the tropics experienced unusually low levels of moisture – the driest in three decades – and a persistent downward motion in the atmosphere kept the tropics relatively cloud free. Curiously, another likely factor contributing to storm suppression was a large infusion of dry dusty air blown over the Atlantic Ocean from North Africa’s Sahara Desert that snuffed weather events before they could grow into tropical storms.
12. Classic Prairie Blizzard
A triple winter threat of snow, wind and cold descended across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan during the first days of December. Blizzard conditions prevailed over the region for hours, paralyzing communities and forcing snow plow operators off the highways in unsafe conditions. Between December 1 and 4, Calgary recorded over 50 consecutive hours of snow, much of it blown by winds gusting as high as 74 km/h that caused restricted visibility lasting for 20 hours or more. It began with a massive storm centred over Idaho and Montana that dumped 20 to 40 cm of snow across southern and central Alberta. A strong Arctic ridge of high pressure over Alaska and Yukon combined to produce some powerful wind gusts approaching 90 km/h that blew the fresh snow into blinding whiteouts and 2.5 m drifts. Mercifully, the snows ended and winds lightened up in time for an enduring deep freeze to set in behind the departing storm. Wind chill readings dipped to -46 – cold enough to freeze exposed flesh in about five minutes. At Lethbridge, the temperature fell to -34°C, which was even colder than the North Pole. The blizzard wasn’t the season’s first blast of winter, but it was the most potent. Authorities closed portions of major highways blocked by either barriers of snow or several multi-vehicle collisions. On Calgary roads and highways alone there were nearly 300 crashes. Residents of the city spent hours shovelling snow and digging out from towering snow drifts. The storm also prompted hundreds of flight cancellations or delays, shut schools and caused headaches for Canada Post as mail delivery became impossible in some blockaded neighbourhoods. At Canada Olympic Park, the ski hill was closed due to high winds and dangerous wind chill. Moving into Saskatchewan, the storm added some freezing precipitation to the blowing, snowing mix that created driving treachery along and south of the Trans-Canada Highway.
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