Canada's top 10 weather stories for 2014: year in review

A Year in Review - 2014

Temperature was a recurring theme in Canada’s top weather events in 2014, but unlike recent years, it was intense and long bouts of cold causing frozen ground, thick ice and a deep snow pack that drew our attention. Nearly everyone could relate to this year’s top weather story - Canada’s long, cold winter - but for the vast majority, the cold was year-round with no season offering warmer than normal temperatures. It was a cold that even spring and summer couldn’t beat back. Stick a thermometer into Canada and it read a measly +0.1°C above normal - the coldest year since 1996 and certainly out of step with the planet, which was on target to being the hottest year since modern records began in 1880. As a result of Canada’s trend-bucking cold, the Great Lakes attained 92 per cent ice coverage for the first time in 35 years, with ice still present in June. On the East Coast sea ice was back, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence sea ice thicknesses in March were the greatest in over 25 years and 10 per cent more than average. Months without a serious thaw left most Canadians begging for spring. But if April is the cruelest month, spring might have been the cruelest season ever this year. Desperate Canadians said they had forgotten what a warm day felt like and were looking forward to their first mosquito or smog day - two sure signs of warmth that failed to materialize. A disappointing spring was followed by a second-rate summer for the nearly two-thirds of Canadians living in central Canada. The substandard season featured chilly air, ice-cold waters and too many wet days. 

Those in the western Northwest Territories and British Columbia were much more fortunate. In coastal BC, it was the summer of summers; the third-warmest summer in 67 years of record-keeping and one of the top ten driest. The only downside was that forest fires were often out of control  in the western Northwest Territories, seven times the normal acreage was ablaze − a record for the region. So intense were the fires that smoke spiraled high above Yellowknife and traveled all the way to Portugal, while the flames bred whirls and firenadoes. In British Columbia, fires caused the third biggest loss of timber in the province in 60 years of record-keeping and firefighting costs soared four times over budget.   

Another recurrent theme in recent years has been menacing floods. In 2014, flooding made the list again as  biblical-sized deluges in the eastern Prairies, initiated by copious rains over three days in mid-June, resulted in one of Canada’s few billion-dollar disasters. Also in the costly weather stories category was a storm just before Christmas 2013 that lingered well into 2014 because its impacts were still being tallied a year later. Insurance claims reached a quarter of a billion dollars when snow, ice pellets, rain and freezing rain plunged parts of central and eastern Canada into days of cold and darkness. Ontario government payouts alone exceeded $200 million and counting, while the cleanup of branches and debris continued throughout the year.

An accurate count of tornadoes is never possible across Canada, but 45 confirmed and possible tornadoes were noted in 2014, which was fewer than normal. All were weak and short-lived except for one in Angus, Ontario that resulted in $30 million in insurance claims. Based on the past five years, no list of significant weather events in Canada would be complete without mentioning Calgary. In 2014, Calgary made the list again; not once but twice. On August 8, a half-billion-dollar hailer pummelled most of Airdrie, Alberta and areas south to Calgary. A month later, the city experienced a surprising summer snowfall that brought down thousands of trees.

In a region that is no stranger to storms, Atlantic Canada got more than its share of nasty hurricanes, nor’easters and big blows this year. Interestingly, there was no reprieve from wicked weather as every season featured at least one big weather event: winter featured crippling storms in early January; the beginnings of spring brought a nasty April Fool’s Day storm that dashed hopes for a warm-up; hurricane season started in summer with Arthur and other named storms making an appearance; and the last two months of the year brought four nasty fall storms that included two powerful nor’easters. The impact on New Brunswick Power was indicative of the widespread fallout felt across the region from four seasons of violent storms. The provincial utility had one of its most disruptive and expensive years on record with seven major storms in less than a year knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homeowners and businesses with costs of more than $40 million.

Among the other weather highlights in 2014 were Prairie and Ontario farmers being faced with challenging weather during growing and harvesting seasons that included floods, heavy and untimely rains, frozen ground, cold weather, harvest frosts and even summer snows in Alberta. In parts of the North it was the coldest year in 17 years. As a result, September sea ice concentrations grew 1.6 million square km above the record minimum of two years ago. Further south, it was another wet year in the Great Lakes - almost 10 per cent above normal - which meant a continuation of the remarkable rebound in Great Lakes water levels in 2013 and 2014. 

On the same week in mid-December powerful storms lashed both coasts of Canada with drenching rains and fierce winds.  Flooding, washouts and power outages occurred along coastal British Columbia from a series of storms hours apart, whereas it was a single, slow-moving nor’easter that inflicted extensive damages in the Maritimes and into Quebec and Ontario.  Ironically, at the same time residents on the Prairies basked in record warm temperatures which was a welcome respite from usual December weather.

The following top Canadian weather stories for 2014 are ranked from one to ten based on factors that include the impact they had on Canada and Canadians, the extent of the area affected, economic effects and longevity as a top news story:

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