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Canada's Top Weather Stories of 2020

St John’s Blizzard

After passing through the United States, a winter storm system emerged off New England and took aim at Newfoundland. Favourable conditions allowed for rapid bomb cyclogenesis of the storm with it strengthening from a 1004 mb low on the morning of January 16th, to a 965mb low 24 hours later southeast of St John’s Newfoundland. The mayor declared a state of emergency for the city, closing schools and businesses in preparation for the incoming blizzard. The heaviest snows occurred right along the east coast of the province, where St John’s picked up 76 centimeters of snow, including a rate of 20 centimeters in 2 hours the morning of January 16th. The snowfall shattered its previous daily snowfall record. Wind gusts reached over 150 km/h at the airport, which grounded flights, cut power and made roads impassable, trapping some inside their homes for days. Some described the blizzard as the worst storm they had ever seen. The military was called in to assist the cleanup with Ottawa sending 450 troops to the region in the days following the blizzard.


Fort McMurray Ice Jam

After a very cold start to April, which included many nighttime temperatures in the minus teens and twenties, temperatures rose above freezing and into the double digits for Fort McMurray late in the month. This created a melting situation that caused rapid breakup of river ice on the Athabasca, Snye and Clearwater Rivers, leading to rapidly rising water levels, and the overflow of the waters into downtown, which was spared by the forest fires in 2016. The blockage, which was the size of 25 kilometres at the root, led to a 1 in 100 year flood with water levels rising 4.5-6 meters, caused mass evacuations of the city’s downtown affecting 13,000 residents between the 26th of April and May 2nd, and led to over 1,200 structures being affected. One person also died in hospital from the Fort McKay First Nation downriver from Fort McMurray when the floodwaters trapped him and another man while they were riding ATVs. The flood itself caused $228 million of insurable damages according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, with an additional $147 million in funding being provided by the Alberta government for those affected by the floods.


Ontario’s tale of two Mays

Environment Canada 500mb analysis map showing an upper level low over Quebec which was reponsible for a record outbreak in Eastern Canada.

May in Ontario was the battle of two seasons: Winter trying to hold on, and a burst of summer at the end of the month. If one looked at the month as a whole, they would have said that it was a normal month, but weather patterns caused extreme swings in temperature between the start and end of the month. The first half was characterized by a strong upper level low that set up over Northern Ontario for several days, which dragged arctic air southward and pooled it over the province. Toronto broke a daily record for cold on May 12th, with a low of -3.8°C, marking its coldest May 12th since records began 81 years ago. Several locations even picked up snow in Southern Ontario on May 11th as the cold airmass kicked up lake effect snow, with Guelph and Kitchener receiving 5cm of snow and Sudbury in Northern Ontario receiving 10cm of system snowfall between May 7th and 8th.

Temperature anomalies from the US Climate Prediction Center (CPC) for late May showing the strong ridge across the Great Lakes region which contributed to 30-degree highs for some locations on May 25th and 26th.

The low eventually moved off allowing for a strong ridging setup to invade Ontario going into the last third of May. Temperatures more reminiscent of July were observed as temperatures soared into the 30s across the region. Temperatures for the week of May 22nd-29th were around 5-7 degrees above average, with Toronto hitting 31 degrees on May 26th. The heat overall counteracted the record cold earlier in the month, leading to a normal month of temperatures overall.

Temperatures in Midland, ON for the month of May from the author’s personal Davis weather station

Most remarkably, Midland, Ontario saw the temperature extremes even out perfectly, with a May temperature anomaly of 0.01°C below normal, which was negligible, but truly showed how lopsided the temperatures were for the two halves of the month.


Calgary Hailstorm

Calgary, Alberta is no stranger to natural disasters with many happening over the last number of years, however a hailstorm on July 13th was very damaging to the city. A cluster of supercell thunderstorms approached the city shortly after 6pm, bringing flash flooding and very large hail to the size of tennis balls. The hail pummeled the northeastern suburbs of the city the worst, smashing out car windshields and causing substantial damage to the roofs and the siding of homes as well as decimating crops outside the city. The storm damage resulted in over 70,000 claims being made to insurance companies totaling around $1.2 billion in damages, making it the 4th costliest natural disaster in Canadian history according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Doppler Radar showing the storm responsible for the Calgary hailstorm


Toronto’s hottest July on Record, Ottawa’s 2nd Warmest

After a crazy May, summer set its sights on Ontario producing a very hot July for the province with a strong ridge keeping temperatures well above average for the month. Toronto observed its hottest July ever, with a mean temperature a full 3.5 degrees above average of 25°C for the month at Pearson International Airport. The month’s average high was 30.4°C with an average low of 19.5°C, and a total of 17 days saw the mercury rise above the 30-degree mark. In Ottawa, it was the second hottest July on record with the mercury being 3 degrees above average, with only July of 1921 being warmer. The average high was 30.6°C for the month at the airport, with an average low of 17.4°C and a mean temperature of 24.0°C, and 18 days of 30+ degree weather. Overall, July 2020 was tied with 2016 for the second warmest month ever recorded on earth for temperatures.


Scarth, Manitoba Tornado

A deadly supercell thunderstorm in Manitoba on August 7th produced Canada’s strongest tornado of 2020. It formed over a mostly rural area of the province near the town of Scarth, which is around 275 kilometres west of Winnipeg at around 8pm Central time. The tornado tracked eastward for around 10 to 15 minutes before lifting off the ground, snapping power lines and causing significant damage to farm equipment, grain silos, as well as flipping cars on local roads and tossing them onto nearby fields. A middle-aged man was trapped and rescued from a red Jeep that was flipped over and was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Unfortunately, two fatalities were reported as 18-year-old male and female occupants of a white pick up truck in a nearby farmer’s field were ejected from the vehicle when the storm overtook them. The tornado was rated an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with estimated winds of around 260 km/h according to the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) and University of Manitoba.


Ontario’s tornado barrage of 2020

2020 was a very active year across the province of Ontario, with several outbreaks of severe weather spinning up tornadoes around the province. 32 tornadoes touched down in total as of the end of September, with 3 of them reaching EF-2 intensity, 13 causing EF-1 damage, and the remaining 16 being rated EF-0. Two outbreaks occurred on June 10th and July 19th, where 7 and 8 tornadoes were confirmed on the respected days. Most of the tornadoes were associated with lines of severe thunderstorms rather than individual supercells for southern Ontario, whereas the storms in northwestern Ontario were distinct supercells in nature.

The most notable tornadoes occurred on June 8th in Nestor Falls, where a severe storm tracked for 32km causing damage, with an EF-2 tornado confirmed to have attributed to damage for at least the first 22km of the path.

Two days later on June 10th, an outbreak of storms spawned an EF-2 tornado with winds up to 190 km/h near Mary Lake in Ontario’s cottage country. The tornado travelled for around 24 km and ended near Dwight, causing significant tree damage.

Lastly, August 2nd featured another strong tornado of EF-2 intensity near Kinmount, which snapped many trees and damaged several structures and homes.

One more late season tornado occurred on September 30th, which was confirmed by the Northern Tornadoes Project in the city of Hamilton near the Strabane area. The storm was rated an EF-1 with winds up to 150 km/h.


West Coast Forest Fire Smoke

Climate change induced drought combined with record heat along the west coast of the United States exacerbated wildfires in the late summer of 2020, causing the worst fire season on record for the region. Temperatures in California reached the 40s, creating critical fire conditions that allowed for fires to take off once they got going, creating dangerous plumes of toxic smoke that were carried by air currents. Dangerous fires also ignited in Washington state and Oregon, contributing to mass evacuations, which in Washington’s case displaced 10% of the state’s population from their homes.

The toxic smoke blanketed San Francisco, creating a hellish landscape over the city. Smoke reached into British Columbia and Alberta, lowering visibilities and air quality, changing picturesque views of mountains into a constant fog over the region. The smoke also was carried eastward, creating hazy sunsets over Toronto and other eastern cities.


Atlantic Canada’s summer drought

A persistent period of below average precipitation combined with a warmer than normal summer combined to develop drought in the Atlantic provinces, which started in May in a small portion of Nova Scotia and Northeastern New Brunswick, and spread to all of the provinces by the end of August. Major centers like Moncton, NB and Charlottetown, PEI all received significantly below normal rainfall, with Moncton reporting a deficit of 298.8mm (according to preliminary data from Environment Canada) below the normal rainfall between March and the end August, which was 49% of normal. This led to the ground drying up and crops never growing in the region or drying up. Rivers also fell to below normal levels as a result of the drought. The lack of rain intensified the drought monitor index to include severe drought for the majority of New Brunswick and PEI, as well as some areas of extreme drought for areas around Moncton and a large swath of central PEI, including Charlottetown. Southern Nova Scotia also recorded drought, as well as Southwestern Newfoundland but rainfall deficits were less allowing for the southern parts of the provinces to generally only experience moderate drought.


Post Tropical Storm Teddy impacts the Maritimes

2020 was a hyperactive hurricane season for the Atlantic basin, producing storms at a record pace, which shattered records. Teddy was the earliest T named storm, which gained tropical storm strength on September 14th east of the Winward Islands chain. The storm tracked northwest over the western tropical Atlantic, becoming a category 4 hurricane with 225 km/h winds on September 17th before weakening to a category 2 storm as it turned north and skirted east of Bermuda on the 20th of September. A trough over the eastern seaboard of the US began to transition Teddy to a powerful extratropical cyclone, which expanded the wind field of tropical storm forced winds from the storm to be over 850 km. The storm made landfall east of Halifax on September 23rd just after 9am Atlantic Time with sustained winds of around 104 km/h, brining heavy rains, pounding surf waves and strong winds to a wide swath of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI, and later Newfoundland as the storm continued to move north and weaken. Eastern Nova Scotia saw the highest recorded wind gusts, downing trees and power lines. A gust of 145 km/h was observed in Grand Etang, 118 km/h in Eskasoni First Nation, 109 km/h in Cheticamp, 107 km/h in Hart Island and 102 km/h in Beaver Island. Waves also reached 5-7 meters, with some buoys south of Nova Scotia reporting waves up to nearly 12-13 meters.

National Hurricane Center map showing Teddy Approaching Nova Scotia on September 23rd, 2020

Nova Scotia also saw the heaviest rains, which drenched most areas with 80 mm of rain, with a couple locales reaching over 100, which was welcomed as drought was plaguing Atlantic Canada. The storm emerged northeast of Newfoundland, racing off to the northeast on September 24th.


Canada’s last ice shelf collapses

Global Warming and Climate Change have been majorly altering our planet during the last number of decades, causing irreversible damage to our world and landscapes. 2020 saw very warm temperatures across a wide portion of Canada, and a very grim milestone was obtained in the Canadian north. On August 4th, Environment Canada’s Ice Service reported that Canada’s last remaining intact ice shelf, known as the Milne Ice Shelf, located near Ellesmere Island Nunavut, collapsed between July 30th and August 4th, reducing the area of the ice shelf by 43%. It marks a continuing trend in the Arctic regions of the globe of rapid ice loss, which saw 2020’s Arctic ice concentration as the 2nd lowest on record for the region. As ice cover continues to decrease, conditions will get worse for the world unless more is done to curb climate change.



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Pelmorex. (2020). PHOTOS: Teddy unleashes soaring waves, winds, heavy rain on Atlantic Canada. Retrieved from

Enloe, H. (n.d.). North American Drought Monitor. Retrieved from

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Kinmount, ON EF2 Tornado of August 2, 2020. (2020, August 11). Retrieved from

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'Gut-wrenching to watch': Tornado that touches down near Virden, Man., leaves ruin in its wake | CBC News. (2020, August 08). Retrieved from

Strength of tornado that killed 2 in southwest Manitoba upgraded, had winds up to 260 km/h | CBC News. (2020, August 18). Retrieved from

Yun, T. (2020, July 30). It's official: This has been the hottest July in 84 years, according to Environment Canada. Retrieved from

Gillis, M. (2020, July 31). July 2020 is the second hottest in the capital since records began. Retrieved from

Pelmorex. (2020). $1.2B Calgary hailstorm ranks as Canada's 4th costliest natural disaster. Retrieved from

May snowfall breaks record in Sudbury | CBC News. (2020, May 08). Retrieved from

Pelmorex. (2020). Ontario: A snowy start to the week, but there's good news ahead. Retrieved from

Adriano, L. (2020, June 02). Revealed - insured damage total cost from Fort McMurray floods. Retrieved from

Ice jam that forced evacuations, caused major flooding in Fort McMurray is melting. (2020, April 30). Retrieved from

McKenzie-Sutter, H. (2020, January 21). Soldiers trade rifles for snow shovels to help dig out St. John's. Retrieved from

Ho, S. (2020, January 17). Newfoundland blizzard as seen from space. Retrieved from

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