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 powerlines. Strong winds and torrential 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 totalled $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.
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 tributaries:
Significance: At the time, it was the costliest disaster in the country's history.
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 Harbour 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 totalled 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.
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.
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.
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 a.m. 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.