Over the last few issues we’ve looked at the top weather stories from around the world in 2012. In this issue it’s time to zoom in on Canada and see what the top weather stories were this past year. Environment Canada creates a list of the top weather stories each year along with a list of runner-up stories. If you want to check them out, visit www.ec.gc.ca. What I plan to do here is to summarize five of these top events, in the order of how important I thought they were, paying particular attention to the Prairies.
For the No. 1 weather story of 2012 I’ll have to agree with EC that it was the exceptionally warm year we experienced. I could take up the rest of this article going over the different temperature records broken across Canada in 2012. The year started off with the winter that never was, as warm air remained in place across pretty much all of Canada. Nearly every region saw winter temperatures in the top three for warmest winter ever. Spring saw more seasonable temperatures across Canada, but as summer rolled around the temperature soared once again. For the June-through-August period Canada recorded the warmest average national temperature. Nationally, the July-to-September period was even warmer, coming in as the warmest three-month period in recorded history. Atlantic Canada, Nunavut and the northern Prairies all recorded their warmest summers ever. Only B.C. saw near-average temperatures.
I think the second-biggest story of 2012 was the incredible March heat wave. While it ties in directly with the first story I think it deserves a place of its own. EC also felt this, but lists it as the fourth top story. Once in a while things just come together to bring a truly amazing weather event, and this is exactly what happened last April. After a warm winter with little snow cover, atmospheric patterns developed that allowed warm air to flow northward. Usually a lot of the heat energy would go toward melting all the ice and snow, but with very little snow around, the heat remained, allowing temperatures to soar. All-time records were shattered from Saskatchewan to Atlantic Canada during this heat wave, with high temperatures making it into the low to upper 20s. Usually records are broken by only a few 10ths of a degree and once in a while by a degree or two. During this heat wave records were being broken by as much as 17°! In fact, in some places overnight lows were so warm they were beating the record highs!
My third-biggest weather story of 2012 and EC’s sixth was the big melt in the Arctic. I’ve already written a lot about this, but to summarize, 2012 saw the lowest amount of Arctic ice on record. Summer minimum ice extent is now down to only 25 per cent of the Arctic Ocean and this is nearly 50 per cent lower than the 1979-2000 average. Not only is the extent of ice cover declining, but the volume of the ice is now at record lows as thick multi-year ice melts away and is replaced by thin one- or two-year-old ice.
The fourth-biggest story and EC’s third was the spring and early-summer flooding in B.C. Heavy winter snowfalls had officials concerned about spring flooding. Combine this with the pine beetle-related loss of large tracts of trees, which would normally help to slow down the snowmelt and store run-off, and things were set for some serious flooding. As April rolled along some flooding did begin, but then cold weather moved in, delaying the snowmelt. When the warm weather returned about a month later, it also brought heavy rains and thunderstorms. This created a rapid snowmelt in the mountains and all this water, combined with the rain, resulted in river levels not seen in decades throughout much of southern and central B.C. Making the flooding particularly bad, as late-spring flooding came to an end, more heavy rain moved in, prolonging the flooding well into July.
My fifth and last weather story of 2012 was one of EC’s runner-up stories. In fact, there are two runner-up stories and I’m not sure which one I should go with. The first is the fire-to-ice story in southern Manitoba, when areas around Vita and St. Malo had to deal with wildfires that ended up destroying four homes early last October. Making this story more memorable, the fires were brought to an end when a storm system moved in, dumping upward of 30 cm of heavy, wet snow, along with heavy icing.
The other big story was the record snows that occurred over south-central Saskatchewan and then up into north-central Manitoba during November and December. Regina broke a daily snowfall record on Nov. 9, when 24 cm were recorded, and by the end of the month the city had recorded its snowiest November on record. In December more snow moved into Saskatchewan and then pushed into north-central Manitoba. This system dumped some amazing amounts of snow, with some locations in Manitoba reporting upward of 90 cm.
All in all, 2012 was quite a record-breaking year. Will 2013 follow suit? We’ll just have to wait and see!