Canada's Top 10 weather stories for 2013

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Environment Canada had some memorable weather events in their recently released Canada's Top 10 Weather Stories for 2013, but the clear top item was the major flooding in Southern Alberta.

Alberta’s super flood of 2013 washed across one-quarter of the province and through the heart of Calgary – the fourth largest city in Canada. The disruptive flood cut off dozens of communities throughout the province and prompted the largest evacuation across Canada in more than 60 years with up to 100,000 Albertans told to leave their homes.

It was also Canada’s costliest natural disaster – more expensive than eastern Canada’s 1998 ice storm. Economists project damage losses and recovery costs from the flood to exceed $6 billion, including a record $2 billion in insured losses. In its wake, the flood caused unbelievable infrastructure losses from 1,000 kilometres of destroyed roads and hundreds of washed-away bridges and culverts. Among insured losses were thousands of cars and homes demolished and damaged by backed-up sewers and small rivulets that exploded into raging torrents.

The storm featured an intense and slow-moving moist upper low that parked itself over southern Alberta, delivering three days of torrential rains. What was not typical was that it stalled and sat over the mountains for days due to a massive high-pressure ridge to the north that blocked it from moving east and pinched it up against the Rocky Mountains.

Calgary received 68 millimetres over 48 hours, but the rainfall west of the city in the elevated headwaters of the Bow and Elbow rivers was exceptionally heavy and torrential – more typical of a tropical storm in quantity and intensity. Rainfall rates of three to five millimetres per hour are considered high; rates from this storm were 10 to 20 millimetres per hour in the higher elevations, with several stations reporting 50 to 70 per cent of their storm rainfall in the first 12 hours. Totals averaged 75 to 150 mm over two and a half days, with Burns Creek recording a phenomenal 345 millimetres. At Canmore, over 200 millimetres of rain fell – 10 times that of a typical summer rainfall. Also contributing to the flood, the warm air and rain melted up to 60 centimetres of snowpack, which was about 25 per cent above normal for that time of year, instantly engorging streams and rivulets.

Saskatchewan made a pair of appearances on the Top 10 list, ranking in third place for the weather which led to bumper crops this year, but also placing in eighth for the prairie winter that seemingly went on forever.

3. Bumper Crops in the West, So-So for the Rest

Farmers rarely describe the weather as perfect. And for good reason! The growing season is long and the weather can quickly turn bad any time between seeding and harvesting. In the West, the growing season wasn’t perfect this year but it came pretty darn close with usually cautious food producers describing it as incredible, unbelievable, stupendous, bin-busting and the best in a lifetime. Heading eastward, the growing season was more of a rollercoaster – some crop yields were up and some were down with plenty of challenges in between.

A golden field of harvested hay

The growing season in the West didn’t start with much promise given the long, drawn-out winter and a cool, wet start to spring. While flooding was not widespread, soil was cold and saturated leaving field work three weeks behind. By late August, the season was back on track due to an absence of scorching temperatures and drought. Soil moisture was also good to excellent throughout the season. And, in sharp contrast to last year, severe weather was localized and less frequent. In fact, the Canadian Crop Hail Association reported that, compared to 2012, crop hail claims were down by one-third in Alberta and two-thirds in Saskatchewan. During the last half of July and first half of August very cool temperatures and adequate rains benefitted crops that were mostly in the reproductive growth stage.Farmers pulled off a record crop owing to ideal growing weather and perfect ripening and drying conditions. September temperatures were among the warmest in history. Further, there was no killing frost and zero snowfall at harvest, with only a touch of frost in the middle of September that caused minimal damage given that most crops had matured. By the end of September the harvest was 85 per cent complete; by Thanksgiving it was all wrapped up. Statistics Canada forecasted that western farmers harvested a record 30.5 million tonnes of wheat in 2013. In some areas, durum yields were 20 bushels above grower’s historical bests. Both yield and quality were superb; prices not so much! This year’s grain harvest was so large that some farmers had to pile grain on the ground because their bins were bursting and silage bags were sold out.

8. Prairie Winter Went on Forever

Environment Canada considers the months of December through February as winter. Tell that to Canadians on the Prairies, where cold, snow and ice went on for seven months from October 2012 to April 2013, inclusive – the longest and coldest period in 16 years. Snows came early, stayed late and never disappeared. As a result, it felt and looked like winter from before Thanksgiving to a month after Easter. And with deep snow on the ground any warm-up was stalled until late May. At times, March and April felt colder than January and February. Perhaps the cruelest day of many was the first day of spring on March 20, which started a period of 30+ days of below normal temperatures. Also on that day, snow on the ground was at record or near-record depths:  Fort McMurray 51 centimetres; Peace River 33 centimetres; Regina 107 centimetres; Brandon 77 centimetres; and Winnipeg 55 centimetres. Entrenched Arctic air combined with an unseasonably late snow cover led to new record minimum temperatures day-after-day well into spring. For example, Regina’s minimum temperature on April 29 was the coldest in Canada – more typical of temperatures at the end of January. In fact, it was the coldest April 29 since record-keeping began in 1884. Snow cover in Regina made the record books too! On April 1 and 25, the city’s snow cover measured 62 cm and 30 cm respectively – the most ever recorded on those days since observations began in 1955.

Other highlights from winter’s seven-month stretch included:

Humongous snowfalls – from Grande Prairie to Winnipeg, snowfall consistently averaged between 50 and 100 per cent above normal. Regina owned bragging rights to snowfall amounts, with one weather station measuring seasonal snowfall at 207 centimetres – more than any other winter going back to 1883. The previous extreme was 195 centimetres in winter 1955-56. On average, the city experiences one or two days a year with more than 10 centimetres of snowfall. This year, there were nine days with amounts ranging from 10 to 20 centimetres.

Record snow depth and endurance – on April 19, snow on the ground varied widely across Saskatchewan but generally measured 30 to 60 centimetres – likely the deepest since records began in 1955. Some areas went into May with snow on the ground. Although there’s been snowfall in May and June before it’s never stayed on the ground for so long. Of note, a weather station 25 kilometres north of Edmonton had snow cover on 170 consecutive days from November 8 to April 26.

Persistent cold – between March 1 and April 30, the average temperature in Regina was -8°C; 11 degrees colder than the previous year and the coldest period in 113 years. Saskatoon recorded its second coldest March-April in 65 years. Further, residents didn’t see temperatures above 10°C for 189 consecutive days − the longest stretch on record. And the city had a whopping 57 days with temperatures below -20°C compared to just 15 cold days last year. In Winnipeg, the average temperature finally climbed above freezing for the first time in 25 weeks on April 26. The mean temperature for that month was -2.1°C, tying for the third coldest since records began in 1872. Edmonton International Airport reported 50 days with minimum temperatures below -20°C, compared to 20 such days last year. Between October 16 and April 24 there was only one day without a freezing temperature (January 15) spanning more than six months.

After more than half a year of tough winter weather Prairie residents were clearly fed up, feeling both its physical and psychological strains. An inordinate number of people of all ages suffered broken legs, ankles and worse while navigating the frozen terrain. And, sadly, the long harsh winter doubled the number of cases of animal neglect as reported by the Saskatchewan SPCA. Winterkill was also partly to blame for a huge loss of bees in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The prolonged winter was especially costly for governments. By the end of January, Saskatchewan had already spent $6 million more than usual on snow and ice control with much more to come. Bitterly cold temperatures at the end of January played a part in setting a new record for power usage in the province as residents spent 10 per cent more on energy to stay warm and comfortable. The unusually late arrival of warm weather delayed the start of seeding by at least two weeks, and increased concern about the possibility of even longer delays because of the likelihood of widespread spring flooding.

The full list of top weather stories is as follows:

The Top Ten

1. Alberta's Flood of Floods

2. Toronto's Torrent

3. Bumper Crops in the West, So-So for the Rest

4. To Flood or Not to Flood

5. Rebound in the Arctic Ocean and the Great Lakes

6. Wicked Winter Weather Wallops the East

7. Spring Flooding in Ontario's Cottage Country

8. Prairie Winter Went on Forever

9. Stormy Seas and Maritime Tragedy

Ship navigating through turbulent waters

10. Sunny and Rainless in BC

To view the full list along with a list of runner-up weather stories and regional highlights, visit

Organizations: Environment Canada

Geographic location: Canada, Calgary, Saskatchewan Alberta Regina Burns Creek Canmore Winnipeg Peace River Grande Prairie Edmonton Saskatoon Manitoba Toronto Arctic Ocean Ontario

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