5 worst weather events to hit Canada in the last 100 years
A Mountie surveys the damage on a street in Fort McMurray, Alberta. (Courtesy Alberta RCMP)
Canada’s weather can produce storms that can be awe-inspiring and terrifying. In September 2022, Category 4 Hurricane Fiona smashed into the East Coast of Canada and the United States, leaving a trail of devastation.
Three provinces experienced extreme winds of up to 160 km/hr that destroyed trees and power lines. Strong winds and torrent rains washed homes and cars into the sea. Hurricane Fiona joins the ranks of some of the worst Canadian weather phenomena in recent years. Here are five more extreme Canadian weather forecast events in Canadian history:
1. Fort McMurray Wildfires (2016)
Background: On May 1, 2016, an Alberta helicopter crew spotted a fire in a remote area. Before the wildfires, an abnormally hot and dry air mass hung over Northern Alberta. It brought record-high temperatures, climbing as high as 32.8°C, and low humidity levels of around 12 per cent.
On May 3, 2016, the temperatures remained high as the winds picked up to 72 km/h. An El Niño phenomenon put the finishing touch on this perfect storm scenario. The year’s El Niño cycle created a dry fall and winter followed by a warm spring untempered by a meagre snowpack. These conditions enabled the fire to sweep through the Fort McMurray community, prompting the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history.
Damages: Damages totaled $9.9 billion CAD.
Significance: It was the most expensive disaster in Canada’s history. More than 88,000 people were forced out of their homes as the fire destroyed 2,400 buildings and houses. The fire raged across 590,000 hectares before being extinguished on Aug. 2, 2017.
Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2016. (Credit: REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
2. Southern Alberta Floods (2013)
Background: Leading up to the June 19, 2013 flood, Alberta’s southern and central areas received abnormally heavy rainfall that led to devastating floods along the following rivers and tributes:
Damages: Damages totaled $1.7 billion CAD. The floods killed five people, and over 100,000 were displaced.
Significance: At the time, it was the costliest disaster in the country’s history.
A panoramic view of the flooded stampede grounds. The Elbow river running through Calgary on the south central part of the city was flooding simultaneously as the Bow River was flooding this caused a perfect storm, when both rivers breached, the inner city of Calgary was lost as well as any communities that were along both rivers…devastating and heart breaking for the residents residing in these areas. (Credit: Getty Images)
Houses damaged along the edge of Cougar Creek are shown June 20, 2013 in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Widespread flooding caused by torrental rains washed out bridges and roads prompting the evacuation of thousands. (Credit: John Gibson/Getty Images)
3. Hurricane Juan (2003)
Background: A large tropical wave formed on Sept. 14, 2003, off the coast of Africa, which would soon be known as the “storm of the century.” Eleven days later, Tropical Storm Juan was born on Sept. 25, 2003. By Sept. 27, 2003, Juan reached its maximum intensity of 90 knots or 166 km/h, earning Category 2 hurricane status near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Weather buoys measured waves of more than 20 m before they snapped. Halifax Harbor recorded surges of up to 2 m, the highest on record. Juan hit Nova Scotia early on Sept. 29 with winds of 85 knots or 157 km/h. It managed to retain hurricane-level strength as it crossed Nova Scotia.
Damages: Damages totaled more than $300 million CAD. Eight people lost their lives to Hurricane Juan.
Significance: As of 2003, it was the worst storm to hit Halifax in over a century. Canada requested a hurricane’s name to be retired for the first time. The name Juan will never be used for Atlantic hurricane names again.
People navigate around down trees on Binney street in central Halifax in the aftermath of Hurricane Juan, September 29, 2003. Two people were dead and 80,000 without power in Nova Scotia Monday morning after Hurricane Juan barreled into the eastern Canadian province from the Atlantic Ocean overnight . (Credit: REUTERS/Paul Darrow)
A resident of Bedford, Nova Scotia walks past a boat which washed ashore in the front yard of a home in the aftermath of Hurricane Juan, September 29, 2003. (Credit: REUTERS/Paul Darrow)
4. The Ontario and Quebec Ice Storm (1998)
Background: On Jan. 4, 1998, an upper-level area of low pressure stalled over the Great Lakes. The pressure system pulled the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico toward the upper St. Lawrence Valley. This caused an 80-hour freezing rain throughout southern Quebec and eastern Ontario, resulting in up to 105 mm of ice and freezing rain over five days.
Damages: Damages totaled $5.4 billion CAD. Thirty-five people died from the ice storm.
Significance: Over four million people in Canada lost power, while in Quebec, 30,000 utility poles were downed, resulting in extensive blackouts. Six hundred thousand people were evacuated from their homes and care facilities throughout the states. Millions of Canadians experienced financial hardship due to work closures or missing work due to the ice.
A street in Montreal’s west-end is littered with fallen trees and power lines January 7 after being hammered by one of the province’s worst-ever ice storms. Over two-thousand hydro workers are clearing power lines trying to restore power to the 500,000 Quebec households and businesses that are still in the dark. (Credit: CANADA WEATHER)
With Christmas decorations still out a house on the Kingston lakeshore shows bad storm damage caused by a falling tree January 10. (Credit: CANADA WEATHER)
5. The Pollux-Truxtun Disaster (1942)
Background: The USS Pollux and USS Truxtun were transporting men and supplies around Newfoundland, past the tip of the Burin Peninsula, and toward the American base at Argentia. On the morning of Feb. 18, 1942, a blinding snowstorm with heavy winds peaked as these two ships lost their convoy.
The Pollux struck Lawn Point at 5 am The Truxton smashed into the looming cliffs of Chamber Cove half an hour later, less than six km from St. Lawrence. It tried to maneuver away and then caught on a reef 60 m from shore, where the waves broke it into pieces. Oil spilled into the icy water as the wind picked up and heavy seas whipped around the survivors. Canadians from nearby mines attempted to organize rescue relief in the direst of locations, complicated by powerful waves and slick oil coating the icy, rocky surfaces.
Damages: On the Pollux, 93 of 233 sailors perished. On the Truxtun, 110 of 156 sailors died.
Significance: Over 200 lives were lost, making the Pollux-Truxtun incident one of the worst disasters in Naval history.
The four-stack destroyer USS Truxtun ran aground and sank in Chambers Cove, NL Only 46 of 156 men aboard survived. (Memorial University Archives)