Would you swap a windy rainy Vancouver day for a 30+ humid Toronto afternoon? All across the country Canadians have been experiencing extreme weather, which has many of us asking where has summer gone or when will this heat end?
Exteme weather has a long history in Canada. Weather you survived the 1987 Black Friday tornado in Edmonton, Torrential rain floods or one of the many grueling heat waves let us know your extreme weather story!
Davina Choy, Social Media Coordinator, The Canadian Encyclopedia
I remember being about six or seven and experiencing incredible snowfall that went up to my shoulders. During that time, it was very unlucky to fall down because you’d be buried in a second, and trying to get up was a nightmare. You’d be flailing around, trying to get a grip on the soft snow, which would give, naturally, and then you’d be flat on your back, snowier and wetter than when you’d started. This was in the mid-nineties in December. Probably my best memories of winter.
James H. Marsh, Editor in Chief of The Canadian Encyclopedia
As a kid in Toronto, aged 9 in 1954, I was pretty unaware of what was going on in the world around me. We did not have TV and as a rule I paid little attention at school. That October 15th I left school around 3:30 and if I was warned of an impending storm I do not remember.
I went straight along Davenport Road to the corner at Laughton, where the Toronto Telegram dumped two big piles of newspapers for me to deliver. It was pouring rain when I got there but I was determined to get them delivered before I went home. That paper route was huge, with over 90 papers, and stretched over many blocks from Osler to Symington. A few blocks into the route the newspapers were so soaked that they were glued together. I would run up onto a customer’s porch, peel apart the ink stained pages, drop them and run to the next house. The winds were adding a great challenge and the gutters were torrents, but I kept on. The streets were deserted and the street numbers were barely visible. I always split the papers in half and returned to the Laughton corner when I finished the western half of the route. When I returned, the remaining papers were a soggy mess. I liked the 6 or 7 dollars a month I got for delivery and was sure now I would lose it, but now even my address list was a blur.
I went home despondent, soaked to the core. When I arrived at my house on Perth, my mother came to the door and I remember her saying “Where the hell have you been? There’s a hurricane out there!” I was amazed that she was not angry.
That storm, Hurricane Hazel, turned out to be the worst storm in the history of Toronto. Winds reached 100km and the rains broke all records. The rivers, especially the Humber, flooded and swept their bridges away. Eighty-three people died.
In fact the hurricane passed directly over Toronto, and when I arrived home things calmed for a while as the eye passed. By later that evening the wind was thumping the side of the house and bending the trees. I know that the hurricane was a catastrophe for many, but for me it was an adventure. I got a reputation as “the boy who delivered papers during Hurricane hazel,” but I suspect those who knew thought that it cast more light on my stupidity than on my bravery.
Extreme Weather in Canada
Weather forms the Canadian psyche as much as hockey and the maple leaf. It occupies our thoughts daily, particularly in winter. At the time of this writing – January 2005 – the weather has occupied Canadians’ thoughts more than usual, as indeed the tsunami in Asia has put weather in the minds of people around the world.
It may be said in Canada that weather is a “powerful part of our community.” It begins conversations and impels us to contact relatives facing severe conditions, calling for reassurance and to commiserate. Like our often-fractious politics, we curse and praise the weather with equal vehemence. Richard Adams, in Watership Down, said, “Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it.” Our Canadian hardiness is“ proof against” our often-harsh climate. And harsh it is. This winter, while the east coast has been battered by severe storms, on the west coast relentless rain has caused mudslides that have exacted a toll in life and property. Across the country we’ve shivered our way through a gaggle of weather warnings.
Winter weather, put mildly, is inconvenient, but extreme weather is hardly unusual in Canada. Annual freezing rain averages range from the Prairies’ 20-35 hours to 50-70 hours in the Ottawa Valley and southern Quebec. Even Victoria averages a few hours of freezing rain per year but the champ is St. John’s, Newfoundland with 150 hours. The 20th century’s worst ice storm hit Ontario and Quebec January 4-10, 1998, causing an estimated $1 billion in damage. Though we may get our long johns in a bunch that others see Canada only as a land of cold and snow, we must concede our frosty reputation. North America’s coldest recorded temperature, in 1947 in Snag, Yukon, was a bone-chilling -63° C. It was so cold that an exhaled breath made a hissing sound as it froze. Canada has the world’s lowest average daily temperature, -5.6° C. Despite Canada’s nippy statistics, we do not hold world records for all cold extremes. Ottawa is only the world’s second-coldest national capital, after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
With cold comes snow, as people know well in the Atlantic Provinces, hit by three major storms in only eight days this winter. In the past 50 years, only twice have there been three storms in a one-month period, in January 1981 and March 1993. The worst blizzard in Canadian railway history occurred between January 30 and February 8, 1947, when 10 days of blowing snow buried towns and trains from Calgary to Winnipeg. Some Saskatchewan roads and rail lines remained impassable until spring. Children stepped over power lines on their way to school and people dug tunnels to their outhouses.
Winter doesn’t give us our only weather extremes. Canada’s longest, deadliest heat wave, July 5-17, 1936, saw temperatures top 44° C in Manitoba and Ontario. The intense heat killed 1180 people, twisted steel rail lines and bridge girders, buckled sidewalks, wilted crops and baked fruit on trees. The hottest day on record was at Midale and Yellowgrass, Saskatchewan on July 5, 1937 when the temperature reached a scorching 45° C.
Extreme temperatures aren’t all. Canada’s deadliest tornado struck Regina on June 30, 1912, killing 40 people, injuring 300 and destroying 500 buildings. It lasted only three minutes but it took 46 years to pay for the damage. On May 4, 1971 heavy rains in St-Jean-Vianney, Que. opened a sinkhole 600m wide and 30m deep. The crater and mudslide killed 31 people and swallowed 35 homes, a bus and several cars.
Many of our significant weather events have happened in February, whose weather superlatives include a deadly snowstorm in St. John’s in 1959; a 1961 ice storm that left parts of Montreal without power for a week; a 1979 blizzard that isolated Iqaluit, Nunavut for 10 days; a 1982 blizzard that marooned PEI for a week; the Ocean Ranger disaster on February 15, 1982; the warmest Winter Olympics — 1988, in Calgary — when 18.1° C on February 26 was just a tad below Miami’s 19.4° C; and the greatest single-day snowfall of 145cm at Tahtsa Lake, BC on February 11, 1999.
Laura Neilson Bonikowsky is Associate Editor of The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Canadian Encyclopedia Copyright © 2011