From flooding to hurricanes, these are the top 10 Canadian weather stories of 2019

Dec 18 2019, 1:00 pm

A look back at the past year demonstrates that Canadians continue to experience more intense weather as a result of climate change.

From intense and lengthy heatwaves and suffocating smoke and haze from wildfires to major flooding, 2019 was another year filled with extreme weather.

Environment Canada says Canadian scientists have made a clear link between climate change and extreme weather events.

“They tell us that while such events can and do occur naturally, much of what we are seeing is driven by human-induced climate change. The effects of climate change are evident in many parts of Canada and are projected to intensify in the future,” said the weather agency.

According to Environment Canada, the top weather stories of the past year illustrate that exceptional weather is becoming ordinary.

“It is playing out in our backyards, in our communities and across our country. Canadians must become more resilient – not only for what lies ahead but also for the climate that is already here,” said Environment Canada.

Here are Environment Canada’s top 10 weather stories of 2019:

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Flooding in Ottawa with the Parliament buildings in the distance. (danielle_labonte/Instagram)

1. Another record-setting Ottawa River flood

Environment Canada described this year’s flooding along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence River as “unprecedented.” Everything about this year, from the flood’s size and duration, were unlike anything that’s happened before.

The flooding was a result of seven straight months of below-normal temperatures from October to April, which caused the ground to freeze deeply and thaw late. And with little melting by mid-spring, the deep and icy snowpack stayed.

After several rounds of heavy spring rains, on May 1, the bloated Ottawa River crested 30 cm above 2017’s peak flood levels, and water inundated several nearby riverside communities,

For the second time in three years, homeowners, municipal workers, volunteers, and armed forces personnel worked to fill sandbags, build makeshift walls, pump water from homes, and assist first responders in evacuations, which forced hundreds of residents from parts of Ontario and Quebec to leave their homes.

Downstream in Montreal, the flood emergency remained until May 8. It took Ottawa more than a month longer to lift their state of emergency. The flood claimed at least two lives: one each in Ontario and Québec.

weather stories

Hurricane Dorian Damage/Michael Thompson

2. Devastating hurricane season

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season was one of the world’s most devastating, with many casualties and widespread destruction in the Caribbean.

By August 29, post-tropical depression Erin reached the south shore of Nova Scotia and at its peak, the storm’s rainfall rates exceeded 30 mm per hour, triggering flash flooding with
ponding and washouts.

A week later, Hurricane Dorian arrived and was “the most destructive storm of the season” both in and outside of Canada. By the time it reached Nova Scotia, Dorian transitioned to a post-tropical storm, while still maintaining its Category 2 intensity with winds of 155 km/h, heavy rains, storm surges, and highly significant waves.

Trees were uprooted and landed on homes and vehicles, nearly half a million people were without power across Atlantic Canada.

weather stories

Calgary in the snow (@mayyy-who/Instagram)

3. Early snowfall in the Prairies

While snow in September isn’t rare in Calgary, this year, the city was “assaulted” by a bout of wintery weather with sub-freezing temperatures and snow. Over four-days, Calgary received 32 cm of snow which caused countless travel and service disruptions.

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Cold Calgary (@hasina.kassam/Instagram)

4. A brutal February in Canada 

February proved to be an exceptionally cold month for half of the country and from the Pacific Coast to the Upper Great Lakes, Environment Canada says it was the coldest February in at least 70 years.

Some notable extremes included Calgary having its coldest February in 83 years and Toronto having a year’s worth of snow in the first two months of the year.

Montreal saw nine straight days of thaws and freezes which caused numerous accidents and injuries, while Atlantic Canada experienced the third coldest February in 25 years.

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Baffin Bay, Nunavut/Shutterstock

5. Record heat in the Arctic

From Alaska to Greenland and in Canada, the North American Arctic experienced above-average temperatures at a record level throughout the year. Summer temperatures in the high arctic, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s trends
analysis, ranged between 2.5°C and 4.5°C above what is normal for Nunavut, making it the warmest summer in 72 years.

Flooding in the Prairies/Rob McKay, Shutterstock

6. On the Prairies: too dry early, too wet later 

Prairie farmers and ranchers had another challenging weather year in 2019. It was too cool and dry in the beginning and too cold and wet at the end of the year. Before the growing season even got underway, ranchers and farmers were facing some of the driest winter-spring conditions in 133 years of record keeping.

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Montreal Rain (@worldpicsmtl/Instagram)

7. Halloween weather delay

Following days of intense and heavy rainfall, 20 Québec municipalities postponed trick or treating until the next day this year, breaking the hearts of children across the province.

Halloween in the region saw damaging winds, plunging temperatures, and heavy precipitation. The strong winds downed power lines and trees, causing nearly two million Québers to lose power on November 1. Environment Canada says it was the biggest service interruption in the province in more than 20 years.

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Toronto in the spring (@dhayden55/Instagram)

8. A Lack of spring in the East

Following one of the coldest Februaries in decades, Canadians were ready for spring. However, spring ended up feeling more like winter across Eastern Canada thanks to the Polar Vortex that lingered well past April.

Persistent northerly and westerly winds kept spring air cold with ample overcast skies, cold rain, and even snow at times. Spring was colder than normal from Alberta to Atlantic Canada.

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Flooding in New Brunswick (@Canadian Forces/Twitter)

9. Saint John River floods again 

This spring, a long cold stretch followed by extended periods of rain and a series of storms brought mild temperatures to the region surrounding the Saint John River. As a result, from April 18 to 28, up to 130 mm of rain fell along the Saint John River.

The snowpack in New Brunswick and Maine melted rapidly and on April 22, the Saint John River at the Maine-New Brunswick border had its largest peak streamflow in 67 years.

The river, at many locations, remained near or above flood stage for about two weeks, making it one of the longest flood events in history. Flooding was so bad in some areas the military was called in to assist.

weather stories

A wildfire burns out of control in Alberta (@AlbertaWildfire/Twitter)

10. Fewer fires, more burning 

In 2019, the number of fires nationally was down 40% compared to the record set in 2018, according to Environment Canada. However, the number of burned hectares of woodlands was only 20% less than in 2018.

Despite fewer fires, they burned more on average than last year’s infernos. According to Environment Canada, mitigation work, such as ridding the forest floor of dead brush, helped to prevent more fires from taking hold.

However, a notable exception to the otherwise tame wildfire season was in Alberta, where the number of fires was on par with 2018. In 2019, the area this fire consumed was nearly 14 times greater than that of 2018, making it the second-worst season on record for the prairie province.