NEWS

Top 10 weather stories of 2011: Slave Lake's fire to Goderich's tornado

12/22/2011 10:23 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST

Snowstorms, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes — Canada bore the brunt of all these weather systems during 2011, and Environment Canada's Dave Phillips has also included them in the top 10 weather stories of the year.

Phillips told reporters during a conference call on Thursday that while Canadians had plenty to weather in 2011, they were remarkably unscathed compared to their global neighbours. But weather-related losses were pegged at $1 billion by the insurance industry, making it the second most expensive year for Canadian weather catastrophes.

1. Historic flood fights in the West

The floods resulted in more acreage under water than ever recorded, lasting from October 2010 to late July and featured the highest water levels and flows in modern history across parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Governments spent $1 billion on flood fighting and victim compensation.

"It was like the flood that wouldn't end," Phillips said. "I think it was not just the flood of the century but the flood of all times."

2. Slave Lake burning

A 4,700-hectare fire that began southeast of Slave Lake on May 14, led to the evacuation of 7,000 residents and eventually destroyed about one-third of the homes and businesses in Slave Lake. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reported the Slave Lake wildfire was the second costliest natural disaster in Canadian history at more than $700 million, with $400 million in uninsurable losses.

3. Richelieu flooding — disastrous for Quebec

For several weeks in the spring, Quebecers living along the Richelieu River suffered through the worst overland flooding in southern Quebec since Confederation and Quebec's worst natural disaster since the Saguenay flood in 1996.

"This was the one that psychologically wore people down," Phillips said.

4. Down on the farm: doom to boom

In the West, excessive wet weather meant 2.75-million hectares of farmland went unseeded, mostly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan — amounting to the second largest incidence of abandoned cropland since the early 1970s. But a hot, dry, sunny July and August helped boost crop development and enabled farmers to play catch-up.

In the East, farmers faced cold weather and heavy rains, followed by a dry spell, and then relentless rains between August and October. In Central Canada, by mid-July, Ontario was parched for water and then hit by excessive rains in September and October.

5. Tornado hits Goderich in a wild week of weather

It began on Aug. 21, with a killer twister ravaging the historic town of Goderich, Ont., on the shores of Lake Huron, with winds between 250 km/h and 320 km/h, causing "war-zone" like damage, Phillips said.

Three days later, severe weather hit the province again as powerful storm cells rolled non-stop through Ontario. Environment Canada confirmed three tornadoes had occurred.

6. Good night, Irene — and Katia, Maria and Ophelia

Nineteen tropical storms formed in the Atlantic basin, with seven becoming full-blown hurricanes and Irene, Katia and Ophelia logging in at Category 3 or higher. Maria made landfall as a Category 1 storm, bringing heavy rain and strong winds.

7. Summer: hummer or bummer?

From Saskatchewan to Quebec, Canadians faced some unrelenting heat during the summer of 2011, with a number of records broken, including in Windsor, which recorded its warmest July and hottest day ever. Across central Canada, health officials issued dozens of heat alerts. But the West and East coasts endured cool temperatures and endless rain.

8. Arctic sea ice near record low

According to Environment Canada and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean declined to its second-lowest extent on record in September.

9. Groundhog Day blizzard: snowmageddon or snowbigdeal?

The Groundhog Day storm brought with it high winds, ice, blizzards, and led to thousands of cancelled flights across North America, as well as school closings. It led to 36 deaths in the U.S. with damages exceeding $4 billion. As the storm headed to the Great Lakes, Torontonians prepared for a possible weather bomb, dubbed by some as Snowmageddon, but received a fraction of the snow predicted. Other parts of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada were bombarded by heavy snowfall and high winds.

10. Wicked winds from the west

During the last week of November, some of the most powerful winds ever recorded ripped across southern Alberta, causing many millions of dollars in property damage. The powerful winds measured from 117 km/hr to 204 km/h in some areas.

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