After taking a break from the top weather stories of 2019 last week to take a look at the latest long-term weather forecasts, it’s time to dive back into the top weather stories. In the last top weather story issue, I combined a couple of big Prairie weather stories into one big weather story that I rank as the biggest weather story of 2019 for Canada — yes, I guess I am biased to Western Canada. That story was all about precipitation — either not enough, too little or, for some places, both!
The next big local weather story has to be the frigid weather all three Prairie provinces experienced last February. For some places the longest and coldest winter cold snap in nearly a century, the February 2019 cold snap was one for the record books. The cold air moved in during the last couple of weeks of January and stayed around into early March. No matter where or how you looked at it, February was cold, extremely cold. The overall coldest temperatures for the month were found across Saskatchewan and northern Alberta. Regina reported a mean temperature of -23 C for the month and Saskatoon came in at -24 C, while the coldest spot was Peace River in Alberta, with a mean monthly temperature of -25 C. Compared to average, the coldest location was Calgary, where a mean monthly temperature of -19 C was a remarkable 13.6 C below the long-term average! The cold air wasn’t just confined to Western Canada, as areas to our east also experienced the cold. Temperatures across parts of Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces were some of the coldest seen in the last 25 years.
Arctic heat waves
The next big weather story of 2019, in my opinion, was the record Arctic heat and the related second-lowest Arctic sea ice minimum on record. The September Arctic ice minimum was 4.15 million square kilometres, coming in second behind 2012. Overall, Arctic sea ice minimums have remained low right through the last decade with no overall trend. What has trended downward during the last decade is the amount of four-or-more-year-old ice, which made up around 30 per cent of the Arctic ice in the 1980s, but has now dropped to almost nothing. Also, the yearly start to the melt has been trending earlier and earlier, along with the fall freeze-up trending later and later.
Several heat waves hit the Arctic last year, with over 90 maximum-temperature records falling in late March, with some records being broken by over 5 C. In early June, unusual heat allowed the development of thunderstorms that spawned a weak F1 tornado in the Fort Smith region. This was only the fourth tornado on record reported north of 60 degrees latitude. Another heat wave in mid-July brought record-warm temperatures to the high Arctic, with Alert, Nunavut reporting daytime highs greater than 21 C, a remarkable 14 C above average. If we saw that same degree of heat here in southern Manitoba, we would be experiencing daytime highs in the low 40s!
For the final big Canadian weather story of 2019, I had to go with the large number of tropical storm systems that either directly or indirectly affected Canada this past year. Being so far north, we rarely experience a full-fledged tropical storm or hurricane. Usually by the time they make it this far north they are transitioning into a mid-latitude storm system and losing their tropical storm characteristics. That said, the first post-tropical storm system was the remains of Hurricane Barry, which pushed up through eastern Ontario in the early summer, causing urban flooding in the Toronto region. The next system was post-tropical depression Erin, which hit high Nova Scotia in late August, bringing rainfall rates in excess of 30 mm per hour, resulting in flash flooding and washouts. A week later, post-tropical storm Dorian hit Nova Scotia with wind speed nearing 150 km/h along with heavy rains, storm surges and large waves. At one point, 80 per cent of Nova Scotia businesses and residences were without power. Finally, in late October, the remnants of tropical storm Olga brought upward of 50 mm of rain along with high winds to the areas around lakes Erie and Ontario.
That’s about it for the top Canadian weather stories of 2019. In the next issue I hope to expand and explore some of the top global weather stories of 2019.