Top ten weather stories for 2005: story nine

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9. November's Nasty Weather Brew

November is one of the windiest months on the Great Lakes. Gales of November have accounted for nearly half of the ship wrecks in those waters. The location of the lakes in the interior of North America, between the source regions for contrasting arctic and tropical air masses, often brings the region rapidly changing and explosive weather systems. In November, along the overriding jet stream, developing cyclones track eastward into the Great Lakes where they often get an extra shot of energy from the relatively warm lake waters. Lows are often stronger than at other times of the year. These nasty storms are called "witches of November".

In the first week of November 2005, a vicious "witches" storm pummelled the lower Great Lakes region packing wind gusts of 90 km/h. South of the Great Lakes, the storm spawned a deadly tornado in Indiana that killed 22 people. In Ontario, damage was - for the most part - minor and localized. In Hamilton, the storm tore down trees, ripped hydro lines, blew around recycling boxes and debris, and downed traffic lights. Emergency crews were kept hopping as they responded to hundreds of calls. The strongest winds were generally reported over higher ground and in exposed areas to the lee of the Great Lakes. Hydro One reported up to 70,000 customers without power across the province.

On November 9, another line of storms moved through the province. The day proved to be one of the wackiest weather days ever in Ontario. Temperatures climbed to a balmy 20°C in Windsor, Ottawa experienced a bout of freezing rain, Barrie had snow and Hamilton saw a rare tornado. The Hamilton twister struck about 4 p.m. and lasted 10 minutes. As an F-1 category tornado, it packed winds up to 180 km/h, giving it the strength to pick up and toss around dumpsters, cause walls to buckle, roofs to peel back and cars to flip over. The tornado carved a narrow 7-km path through the city, causing extensive damage to some homes but sparing their next door neighbours. The twister damaged a school and lifted the gym's roof off its foundation. At least a dozen homes were so badly damaged that residents couldn't move back in. Miraculously, only two children suffered minor injuries. The twister was only the third to touch down in Canada later than November 9 since record-keeping began in the early 1900s. The other two Ontario tornadoes touched down in the southwestern communities of Leamington (November 29, 1919) and Exeter (December 12, 1946).

A third major "witches" brew struck southern and central Ontario on November 16 and 17. Wind gusts reached as high as 100 km/h. Hydro One reported that fierce winds knocked out power to more than 50,000 customers across the province. Power restoration was difficult because in some instances sustained winds felled power lines two or more times. Roads in Toronto were flooded and houses in one neighbourhood were evacuated when a retaining wall weakened. South of the Great Lakes in the United States, the weather again caused more serious damage, triggering 35 tornadoes. In Hamilton, the sound of the wind only reminded some residents of the tornado just a week before.

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