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Top Ten Weather Stories

Top Weather Events of the 21 st Century 


For the winter, December to February inclusive, the Pacific Coast recorded its warmest season on record (+3.1 degrees above normal). Around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin, even with a milder December, winter was the coldest in 20 years. It was also another warm year in Canada, the 19th in a row and the 11th warmest in 68 years of records, some 1.2°C warmer than normal. The period January to April was the coldest on record across Eastern Canada from the Great Lakes to Newfoundland and Labrador whereas for most of British Columbia it was the warmest on record. British Columbia had its warmest winter, spring and year ever, especially along the coast, which was 0.7°C warmer than the previous warmest year in 1992. The Prairies and the Mackenzie Region recorded their fourth and fifth warmest years, respectively. Globally, it was another warm year – the 38th in a row. Even more spectacular, it was the warmest year in 135 years, surpassing 2014. Indeed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with other government agencies, declared 2015 the warmest year on record in early November with two months still left to go. The 2015 national wildland fire season was above-average for both fire numbers and hectares burned, greatly exceeding averages for 20- and 25-years. 4,922 fires consumed an incredible 3.25 million hectares of woodland, 60% the area of Nova Scotia. That staggering total was four times the 25-year average. Remnants of Pacific tropical storms had a much greater impact on Canada than their Atlantic counterparts. Tropical storms Kilo, Oho and Patricia from the Pacific packed enough energy and leftover moisture to inflict some serious damage and widespread disruption in British Columbia and from Ontario through Newfoundland and Labrador. The remnants of Hurricane Patricia, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere and which came ashore from the Pacific Ocean on Mexico’s west coast on October 23, produced blustery wet weather over southern Ontario, eastern Quebec and New Brunswick a week later.

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  British Columbia

In British Columbia, it was the warmest January to July on record. The Okanagan had its record warmest May to July in over 100 years. At Victoria’s Airport, the total rainfall from May 1 to August 31 was 34 mm which is only 30% of normal and the lowest rainfall total in history for the four-month period. Nearly all ski resorts in the far west either partially closed their operations early or shut them down completely by mid-February. May and June in British Columbia came close to being the two driest months on record, which brought the forest fire season to a one month earlier than normal start. In total, firefighting costs hit close to $300 million − twice the 10-year average – and thick and pungent smoke left thousands of residents gasping through surgical masks. At Victoria Gonzales Heights, temperatures for both February 2015 (8.9°C) and the winter of 2014-15 (7.6°C) were by far the warmest on record. Record-keeping at Gonzales goes back 116 years. On August 29, an early “fall” storm crossed the southwest coast of British Columbia, tapping fuel from Tropical Storm Kilo, which had brushed Hawaii days earlier. Powerful winds felled thousands of trees and knocked out power for over 700,000 customers. On Thanksgiving weekend, a series of post-tropical storms that developed from the remnants of Hurricane Oho slammed into the north and central British Columbia coasts.

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  Prairie Provinces

In Saskatchewan, uncontrollable fires prompted the displacement of more than 13,000 people – the largest evacuation in the province’s history. For the first time in some four decades, the Canadian military-1,400 strong-was on the ground battling forest fires and helping with mass evacuations affecting 50 communities. Wildfires in Alberta burned hot and fast in June when half the province came under a fire advisory. Prairie farmers faced challenging weather with killing frosts in May, spring and early summer dryness and too many hailers. Manitoba was hardest hit for crop hail losses − three times last year’s total. On May 17, a harsh, hard frost killed up to 70% of recently-planted canola on the Prairies. Spring mountain snowpack in the Rockies was less than half of what would normally be recorded. By June 1, river discharge was running at levels not usually seen until August. Winter and spring precipitation across the Prairies was the least ever since records began in 1947, some 32 % below normal. About 60% of the agricultural landscape in the western Prairies was in serious moisture stress to the last week of July. Farmers across almost two-thirds of Alberta had to cope with some of the driest conditions in five decades, Saskatoon had its driest March-to-June stretch on record ¼ of normal with records back to 1892. Regina claimed similar low precipitation records. Summer severe weather events including tornadoes, heavy rainfalls, strong winds and hailfalls numbered 307 across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba compared to an average of 234. Tornado occurrences were down everywhere: 8 in Manitoba [normal 9], 6 in Alberta [11] and none in Saskatchewan [12]. Hail strikes were way up and accounted for 70% of severe weather occurrences. Once again, nature didn’t leave Calgary alone. Over a two-day bout of severe weather in July, storms in that city and across central and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan inflicted $250 million in damages (not including crop losses).

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  Ontario and Quebec

In Ontario and Quebec, February became “Friguary” with temperatures 7 to 9ºC below normal. Toronto was colder than Edmonton in February and it was the city’s coldest month ever with records dating back to 1840. Montreal didn’t reach melting temperatures for 43 days and Ottawa’s record number of days below -20°C allowed the Rideau Canal Skateway to stay open for an unprecedented 59 consecutive days. The prolonged and severe cold, combined with a scanty snow cover, caused an epidemic of frozen water pipes across the two provinces. The Great Lakes Basin registered its two coldest back-to-back winters/springs on record in 2013-14 and 2014-15 with observations dating back to 1947. From the Great Lakes to Newfoundland and Labrador, a cold winter and spring and a lukewarm summer made for a cooler than normal year by -0.1°C. It was one of the very few regions in the world that registered a negative temperature anomaly in 2015. Following near-record scarcity of rains in spring, the skies opened up across the region on May 30 and continued to soak the south during June with more than enough rain to do for the entire summer. It rained hard and often – leaving sprouting plants standing in water and fields waterlogged. Some localities received 2 to 3 times their normal monthly rainfall.

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  Atlantic Canada

By the last day of December, Halifax had recorded its least amount of snow ever - a paltry 7 cm. Instead, Halifax International Airport received its greatest rainfall on record in November and December − a 2-month total of 482 mm besting the previous record by 64 mm. In early January when winter let loose. “Big storms” numbered seven or more whereas a typical season would feature two or three. Saint John, NB shovelled more than double its normal snowfall− 495 cm [normal 240 cm]− making it the snowiest winter on record, with records dating back to 1871. Among the other records set at Saint John were all-time snowiest month (February); greatest snow depth (218 cm); greatest number of 30+ cm snowfalls (five, most ever before 2); and the greatest depth of snow on any spring day (169 cm). Moncton and Charlottetown, two of Canada’s snowiest cities, broke the 5 m level establishing all-time record. Unbelievably, Charlottetown’s snowfall in February was a whopping 223 cm compared to a normal of 58 cm, and more than Montreal (the snowiest major city in the world) averages in one year. The month included a humongous 87 cm in a two-day blizzard beginning on February 15. One expert claimed he had never seen such starvation among wildlife in the Maritimes this winter. In New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, it was possible to snowmobile the entire circumference of the province. For Maritimes Canada, January, February and March 2015 was the coldest in 68 years. Halifax’s average temperature was -4.9°C. The previous coldest January to April was -2.6°C at Halifax International Airport in 1948 and at another long-running Halifax station -4.8°C in 1923. A hard-hitting nor'easter charged the Maritimes on the Valentine weekend, forcing the cancellation of everything from church services and flights south to festivals celebrating winter. Several Maritimers couldn’t resist comparing the Valentine storm with the infamous White Juan blizzard 11 years earlier. On some accounts, the Valentine weekend storm was worse and certainly much longer. If not a white Juan-a-bee, it was a Valentine “massacre”. A year ago July St. John’s, NL registered its hottest month on record. In 2015, July was one of the coldest (and the second wettest, how’s that for weather misery)! The average afternoon temperature was 15.8°C which was a new low record from observations dating back to 1942 and an unbelievable 10 degrees less than the year before. St. John’s had only 23 hours in July when the temperature was at or exceeded 20°C compared to 2014 when hours at or above that threshold numbered 353 hours. A major storm stalled over Nova Scotia at the end of September yielding tropical storm-size rainfalls across New Brunswick, prompting concerns about localized flooding. The storm flooded roads, closed schools and forced people from their homes. Fredericton recorded a whopping 128 mm of rain on September 30, the second heaviest single-day deluge in the city’s history with records dating back to 1871.

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In the Northwest Territories, fire bans went into effect a month earlier around mid-May, and by summer’s first day 20% more fires were reported. At the top of the world, Arctic sea ice continued to disappear, reaching its fourth lowest minimum on record and ending a temporary rebound that highlighted conditions in 2014. Both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route opened up again simultaneously, a previously rare, but now more frequent occurrence. The Arctic region is warming at two to three times the global average – a trend that has helped sea ice in the region decline about 40 percent since the late 1970s.

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