Canada's top 10 weather stories for 2014: Ontario highlights

1. Frost Quakes

Much of southern and eastern Ontario and Quebec was abuzz between Christmas and the first week of January after hearing, hearing about or feeling loud banging noises and tremors. Police and media were inundated with calls from the worried to the curious about what most thought were falling trees, sonic booms, gunshots or earthquake activity. In actual fact, they were experiencing what scientists called cryoseisms or “frost quakes” that are the result of freezing water splitting deep soil or rock or causing frost heaving. The sudden expansion of the water in frozen soil or rocks puts stress on the ground and the ensuing cracking, vibrating and booming noise can easily be mistaken for earthquakes and gunshots. Frost quakes are louder if the ground is saturated from previous rains, snowmelt or flooding and there is little snow cover to muffle the sound. They are best heard between midnight and dawn when sound travels better in cold air, there is less background noise and winds are lighter.

2. Freezing Rain Frightens Torontonians

An intensifying low over Arkansas brought 15 to 20 cm of snow east of Lake Huron and significant freezing rain to areas north of lakes Erie and Ontario over January 5-6. Residents in the Greater Toronto Area were especially nervous about the possible repeat of the pre-Christmas ice storm they had just weathered. What they got instead was a brief shot of freezing rain, with hardly any accretion on trees or hydro lines but enough of a coating to make roads treacherous during the commute. Adding to the misery was a dramatic drop in temperature by 17 degrees that created a flash freeze and black ice.

3. Province-wide Whiteouts

A surprise, fast-moving wall of snow caused highway havoc right across southern Ontario on February 27. Huge pileups - three 30-vehicle messes in southwestern Ontario alone - and white-knuckle driving were typical scenes. North of Toronto there was a 96-vehicle pileup on Highway 400. Amid blinding snow, the OPP closed all roads in Huron, Bruce and Perth counties, which led to a kind of reverse snow day as kids were left stuck at school overnight or billeted out.

4. Spring Flooding in First Nations Communities

The threat of rising flood waters on the Albany River and sewer back-ups forced the evacuation of 2,000 residents in the northern Ontario First Nation communities of Kashechewan and Attawapiskat around May 11, where 40 homes and buildings were damaged by sewage and flood waters. In total, eight communities in Ontario’s far north came under states of emergency, including Moosonee, mostly due to rising waters.

5. Another Two-Tornado Day

On June 24 at around 3:30 p.m., an EF1 tornado moved through the community of Laurel Station to the northwest of Orangeville. Peak winds associated with the tornado were between 135 and 175 km/h - strong enough to move a residential vehicle three metres, un-roof a few homes and down several trees. A half-hour later another EF1 tornado struck east of Tottenham. The twister prompted several road closures and damaged a riding stable where it killed a horse.

6. Burlington Rain Gusher

A band of thunderstorms generating massive rains developed in a line from Freelton to Burlington late on August 4. While rainfall amounts of 100 to 150 mm were estimated by radar, an amateur weather observer recorded a highly localized amount of 190 mm - a two-month supply - in four hours. The heavy rain flooded basements and intersections and forced the closure of many roads including Highways 403, 407 and the Queen Elizabeth Way, or QEW. On some roads water reached above the roofs of vehicles, forcing motorists and passengers to swim to safety. The deluge backed up storm drains, caused mudslides and creeks to overflow, and left standing water on 300 properties and in 500 basements. Burlington’s Mayor claimed it was the worst flooding he’d seen in 20 years. Illustrative of how targeted Burlington was, Hamilton recorded no rain, 3 mm fell at Toronto Pearson, Toronto Island got 1 mm and Vineland received 1.3 mm. Damages from flooding were estimated in excess of $90 million.

7. August Deluges in Windsor

A slow-moving storm crossed the Detroit River into Canada on August 11. Torrential downpours in excess of 70 mm over a 10-hour span fell in Windsor and district, filling basements and swamping yards and streets. It was a month’s worth of rain and the second-highest rain total ever recorded at the airport during August. About a week later, another powerful storm ripped through Windsor bringing down huge tree branches and tossing around backyard gazebos that were bolted down in concrete. An Environment Canada storm team later confirmed that at least two EF0 tornadoes touched down − the first in south Windsor and the second northeast of Harrow.

8. Not Buffalo-Sized Snows

Strong cold winds and relatively warm waters off the Great Lakes combined to produce intense snow squalls on November 19-20. The strongest affected regions were near Georgian Bay where the weather system remained nearly stationary for several hours, dumping snow amounts of 90 cm near Parry Sound, 40 cm in Huntsville, and 20 cm in Bracebridge and Barrie. While the numbers were impressive, they had nothing on the close to 200+ cm that fell in similar lake-effect storms over Buffalo, New York. Back in Ontario, multiple collisions on Highway 400 north of Toronto blocked north-south lanes south of Barrie, causing lengthy delays.

9. Down On the Farm

By late September, it was highly unusual to see fields of Ontario corn and soybeans still unharvested. September also featured twice the usual amount of rain, which kept good field and harvest days to a minimum. Fortunately, in late September and October, Ontario experienced warmer weather that allowed the harvest to progress. Still, in mid-November - with early winter cold, snow and winds − half of Ontario’s grain crop remained in the ground.   The Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture said it was the latest harvest over a broad area of the province since 1992 - so late that the delayed corn harvest cut into winter wheat planting.

10. November Gales

Unseasonably warm air from Texas, along with powerful 100 km/h winds, whipped through Ontario on November 24 leaving 87,000 hydro customers in the dark. In some places between Windsor and Kingston, trees were ripped right out of the ground - roots and all. Just prior to the warmth and winds came heavy rains that flooded streets and forced road closures. Temperatures soared between St. Catharines and Ottawa to record heights, including 21°C in Cornwall. Blowing winds broke hydro poles, felled trees, shattered bus shelters and left traffic lights dangling.

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