Top ten weather stories for 2006: story eight

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8.   Surprise and Relief - A Quiet Hurricane Season

This year, the National Hurricane Center in Miami forecasted that the Atlantic basin would see 13 to 16 named storms (normal 10). Of these, 8 to 10 would be hurricanes (normal 6), with 4 to 6 intense hurricanes (normal about 2.4). They later trimmed their predictions for named storms and hurricanes by one.

As it happened, the season was very close to the 50-year normal. There were nine named storms, including five hurricanes (2 major), making it the quietest season since 1997. However, it was well below what the Atlantic Ocean offered up over the last decade. During the period 1996-2005, the average number of named storms, hurricanes, and intense hurricanes was 15, 8, and 4 respectively. Further, not a single hurricane hit the United States mainland - only the 11th time since 1945. Even the two major hurricanes (Gordon and Helene, which both made it to Category 3 status), stayed out in the Atlantic Ocean. It was quite a contrast to the tropical storm season of last year that featured 28 named storms. Fifteen of those were hurricanes, four of which hit the United States and killed more than 1,500 people. Across the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the season brought relief and few regrets about the millions of dollars spent on stepped-up preparations. Insurance losses from North Atlantic tropical storms amounted to less than a half a per cent of the record outlays in 2005.

Experts concluded that a late blooming El Nino in the Pacific helped suppress the formation of storms in the Atlantic by creating more shearing crosswinds that tend to rip apart hurricanes. Further, sea-surface temperatures were nowhere as warm as they were in 2005 and the Atlantic trade winds contained much more dust from the Sahara Desert. Further, winds and pressure patterns were less favourable for the formation and growth of tropical storms in 2006. And upper-level air currents that push the storms northward were farther east than usual this year, keeping many tropical storms out to sea, away from the North American coast.

Of the nine tropical storms in 2006, more than half affected Canadian territory. On June 15, post-tropical storm Alberto gave Nova Scotia and Newfoundland a pretty good dousing with strong winds and rains that knocked out power to some communities. On July 21, the remains of Tropical Storm Beryl soaked and buffeted southern New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and later Newfoundland. Total storm rainfall totals exceeded 60 mm around Fredericton. Strong wind gusts exceeded 96 km/h on the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia.

During the Labour Day weekend, parts of southern Ontario were damp and chilly owing to a much dissipated Tropical Storm Ernesto moving through the province. Ernesto's winds caused problems on highways in what is the traditional peak of the moving season. During the CNE's air show, the rain wasn't a problem as much as the poor visibility and low clouds.

On September 13, Hurricane Florence brushed by southeastern Newfoundland-Labrador, toppling trees, knocking out power and flooding property. The storm brought sheets of rain totalling 125 mm and generated high tides and hurricane-force winds along the coast. A weather buoy on Sagona Island at the west end of the Burin Peninsula recorded a peak wind of 163 km/h amid 10-metre waves. Elsewhere, winds clocked in at 133 km/h in St. Lawrence, NL. The hardest hit town was Francois, where a home was torn from its foundation and ripped in half by the high winds. The towns of Harbour Breton and Marystown, NL experienced falling trees and a high school was closed due to flooding. Florence was a full hurricane and the most destructive of the hurricane season for eastern Canada.

On October 2, for the second time in less than a month, another tropical storm brushed the south coast of Newfoundland-Labrador with the remains of Hurricane Isaac. It packed some nasty weather: wind gusts up to 96 km/h and rains of 26 mm. On the same day, other parts of Atlantic Canada got 30 to 40 mm of rain and strong northeast winds of 40 km/h - gusting at times to 60 km/h - but none of the weather was associated with Isaac.

In spite of the quiet year, experts anticipate more storms and more frequent severe storms for the next 15 years. Early predictions for 2007 suggest at least 14 storms, including seven hurricanes (three of which are expected to strengthen into intense storms).

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