Forget the scandals, elections and impeachment, the most common talking point in 2019 was undoubtedly the weather.
Complaining about it, in particular, is the great Canadian pastime.
And we had much to complain about last year, as evidenced by Environment Canada’s top-ten weather stories, compiled by senior climatologist David Phillips. The list includes flood conditions, a February deep freeze and record heat in the Arctic.
Closer to home, there was a February marked by a cold-melt-flash-freeze cycle, two rainstorms lead to major spring flooding along the Grand River basin, and record high-water flooding along the Great Lakes.
Phillips has been putting together the annual compilation for 24 years, something that’s become a “worst-dressed list” of weather incidents.
“It’s a chance to relive some of the misery, hardship and misfortune,” he says.
In the early days of the top-ten lists, he notes, there were some good-news items in the mix, but the weather has become more variable, leading to more negative incidents. Climate models suggest that’s a trend destined to continue.
We certainly saw some more extremes in the weather in 2019. In these parts, the year was noted for one of the coldest Februaries in decades, followed by a disappointing spring, the result of a polar vortex that lingered 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, Phillips notes.
“Over the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin, spring was the second coldest in 22 years. Simply, most Canadians had to wait until summer for spring’s arrival. The lack of sun and warmth and weeks of continuous rains caused concern among farmers, gardeners and golfers: spring might have been the cruelest season ever this year. On the first day of summer, many fields and golf greens in the East were either under water or still saturated from non-stop rains.”
The weather was especially problematic for farmers, he adds, noting that by the long weekend in May, less than five per cent of Ontario’s crop was in the ground. “Some seeds were sown but nothing was growing except grass.”
The wet weather that put a damper on spring started to wreak havoc earlier in the year, including along the Grand River, says Phillips, describing last winter in this area as “a lexicon of weather opportunities.”
We were all over the map, with February freezing followed by a quick thaw and then a flash freeze again. That led to flooding as ice chunks formed dams in the river. Large amounts of rain that couldn’t be absorbed into the ground created yet more problems.
“The bomb cyclones brought huge amounts of rain on frozen ground – the ground wasn’t ready for that,” he says, noting flash flooding is fairly new to southern Ontario, but becoming more common.
“We’re seeing some of that now.”
We can also expect more flooding issues and the likes of freezing rain as temperatures rise.
Those warming temperatures aren’t not going to make us the Miami of the north, he says, but when the thermometer that usually hovers around minus-8 degrees starts showing minus-2, there’s an impact because weather that dances around the freezing mark makes conditions less predictable.
How it plays out remains to be seen, with Phillips undoubtedly having many episodes to wade through at this time next year.
“I’m anxious for next year – it’ll be the 25th year,” he said, musing that he may look back over the past quarter-century to identify any trends for the next list.
Canada’s Top Ten Weather Stories of 2019 are ranked from 1 to 10, according to factors that include the impact they had on Canada and Canadians, the extent of the affected area, economic impacts, and longevity as a top news story.
Environment and Climate Change Canada’s top ten weather stories of 2019:
- Another record-setting Ottawa River flood
- Active hurricane season as predicted
- sNo-good Prairie fall
- A brutal Febrrruary in Canada
- Record heat continues in Arctic
- On the Prairies…Too dry early, too wet later
- Weather witch stole Halloween
- Spring missing in the East
- Saint John River floods again
- Fewer fires, more