Ottawa River flood tops 2019 Canadian weather stories

WEST CARLETON – The Ottawa River topping banks by record amounts last spring has also topped this year’s Top 10 list of Canadian weather stories.

Environment Canada’s chief meteorologist David Phillips has been compiling Canada’s yearly Top 10 weather stories for 24 years and said when he started out, it was hard work just to compile a list of 10 stories.

“It’s almost as if normal doesn’t happen anymore,” he said in a recent interview.

In 2019 there was thunder at the North Pole; farmers needing drought and flood insurance on the same crop; seven straight months of freeze in southern Canada at the same time the Arctic was so warm it lifted the country’s average temperature to above normal; and a winter’s worth of snow during harvest and destroying Halloween are just some of the stories that made the list.

Phillips released this year’s list yesterday (Dec. 18).

Another record-setting Ottawa River flood is at the top. Three years after what was supposed to be the flood of the century, more than 6,000 homes were flooded or threatened in April after the river broke water level records by 30 centimetres.

Montreal declared a state of emergency. Ottawa’s Chaudiere Bridge closed. Hundreds of people laid sandbags to keep the water from streets and homes. Two died, one in Ontario and one in Quebec.

Last spring’s flooding is also West Carleton’s Number One covered story in 2019 and you can go through pages and pages of coverage here.

Hurricane Dorian — the worst of several damaging Atlantic storms in 2019 — came second. Even after wreaking destruction on the Bahamas, the storm had enough juice left to uproot century-old trees and toss fishing vessels onto the beach in the Maritimes. Winds reached 157 km/h. Up to 190 millimetres of rain fell.

Eighty per cent of homes and businesses in Nova Scotia and nearly half a million Atlantic Canadians lost power.

On the Prairies, it was snow — in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Calgary got 32 centimetres at the end of September and recorded the greatest depth of it on the ground in 65 years.  

Snow and rain beat down crops and delayed harvest for weeks across the entire grain belt. In Winnipeg alone, snow damaged more than 30,000 trees on public land.

More than 6,000 people had to be evacuated from their First Nations communities. At the peak of an early October storm, 250,000 people were without power.

Torrential rain forced 20 Quebec municipalities to postpone Hallowe’en until the next day. It seemed particularly cruel after a winter during which southern Alberta was 14 C colder than normal and the British Columbia coast 9 C below average.  

Summer never seemed to show up. Edmonton had 55 days of rain between June and August, the second-most on record.

Meanwhile, the Arctic was warm. And not just by Arctic standards.

In July, the remote Canadian Forces station Alert at the top of Ellesmere Island reached 21 C, warmer than Victoria. In Inuvik, N.W.T., temperatures were above normal every single day between Sept. 1 and Nov. 11. Sea ice was so late and unstable in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, that at least two Inuit travelling parties fell through, but survived.

Here’s David Phillips’ Top 10 weather events for 2019:

  1. Record-setting Ottawa River flood for the second time in three years.
  2. Active hurricane season further south leads to destructive storms in Atlantic Canada.
  3. No-good Prairie fall as Calgary and Winnipeg get hit by early and heavy snowstorms.
  4. A brutally cold February across the country.
  5. Record summer heat in the Arctic.
  6. On the Prairies: Too dry early on; too wet (snow and rain) later.
  7. Torrential rain forces some Quebec municipalities to postpone Halloween by a day.
  8. Spring missing from Alberta through to Atlantic Canada. Ontario farmers face one of the latest starts to planting season.
  9. Wet April weather causes Saint John River to flood again in New Brunswick.
  10. Fewer fires, more burning. A reprieve of about 40 per cent from 2018’s record number of forest fires, but amount of land charred only decreases by one-fifth.