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Hurricanes, derechos and more: Top 10 Canadian weather stories of 2022

While 2022 wasn’t as bad weather-wise as 2021, there was still a lot of severe weather Canadians had to deal with this year. Here’s Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Top 10 stories of the year. 

It was another year of wild weather right across the country.

While 2022 wasn’t as bad weather-wise as 2021, there was still a lot of severe weather Canadians had to deal with this year.

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“Last year was dramatic, spectacular. I mean, my gosh, I don’t think I thought there’d ever be a year like last year,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada who has been compiling the annual Top 10 weather stories of the year for 27 years.

“And truly, I don’t think I’ll live through another year like that.”

But between unprecedented heat and fires raging across British Columbia, there was still no shortage of wild weather in 2022 — here are the top climate and weather stories from the last 12 months.

Furious Fiona strikes Eastern Canada

The No. 1 weather story across the country this year was Hurricane Fiona.

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season was a quiet one — at first. But by the beginning of September the first hurricane — Danielle — formed in the North Atlantic Ocean, followed by Hurricane Earl. Then, things really ramped up.

Fiona formed as a tropical depression in the mid-Atlantic on Sept. 14 and quickly strengthened. It moved east, devastating Turks and Caicos, parts of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, reaching a Category 3 storm status. It eventually moved north, merged with another weather system and hit Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as a post-tropical storm.

Though Fiona was downgraded to post-tropical, it didn’t mean there was any relief for those in Atlantic Canada. The region experienced heavy rains, strong winds and incredible storm surges. Homes were swept out to sea.

“For me, really what created the damage and the impact was the strength of the winds [and] the duration,” Phillips said. “We saw in five provinces, winds that … exceeded gusts of over 100 kilometres per hour.”

Though gusts were even higher, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec saw sustained winds of 100 km/h for six to 12 hours, Phillips said.

At its peak, rainfall surpassed 30 mm per hour, with total rainfall reaching anywhere from 80 to 150 mm. Three people died and more than 600,000 homes and businesses lost power.

Fiona victims still waiting on promised $300-million relief program

Victims of tropical storm Fiona say they’re still waiting on a $300-million relief program promised by Ottawa after the storm devastated Atlantic Canadian communities in September.

Billion-dollar derecho rakes across Ontario and Quebec

Most people in Ontario and Quebec know how damaging winds can be in the summer months, created by heat and humidity. But on the May long weekend, a new windy word entered their vocabulary: derecho.

A derecho is a long-lived, straight-lined wind event that can sometimes accompany a line of thunderstorms.

On May 21, a derecho formed in southwestern Ontario and just kept moving. In Ontario, three tornadoes were reported in Uxbridge and London. Some of the peak wind gusts were at Lake Memphremagog in Quebec at 144 km/h. The Region of Waterloo airport in Ontario reported a record speed gust of 132 km/h. Airports in Ottawa and Toronto, meanwhile, recorded peak gusts of 120 km/h.

“What was so fascinating was that it was almost as if it just targeted cities,” Phillips said. “I mean, it went through Windsor, London, Toronto, Kingston, and then Ottawa and then kind of skipped Montreal — but Montreal still had damage — and then into the other major cities in Quebec.”

The derecho felled trees, took down power lines and resulted in the deaths of 11 people — one from drowning and 10 from fallen trees.

In the end, more than a million insurance claims were filed, topping $1 billion in damages. In terms of insured losses, it ranked as the sixth largest weather event in Canadian history.

Manitoba’s drenching spring

“The Manitoba story was big for me,” Phillips said.

At first, it didn’t look like Manitoba’s flood season wouldn’t be much worse than any other years, Phillips said. But by May 1, six wet weather systems had moved through parts of the province, following significant winter snowfall in the south. In fact, most areas received approximately 150 cm of snow, the province’s third-highest snowfall since 1872.

“It was the fact that it was geographically so extensive. It wasn’t just the Red [River]. It was the Porcupine River, it was the Rat River, the Winnipeg River, the Souris and the Fisher River. [They] were all too much water — and not flowing.”

Forty-five municipalities and nine First Nation communities had to declare states of emergency as floodwaters washed out roads, flooded properties and threatened drinking water.

“It just wore people down. It was almost like flood fatigue,” Phillips said.”It was just, like, hanging over your head — not just a one-week issue; it was like six to eight weeks. And people were just worn out by it.”

Return to hot and dry weather under the dome

If 2022 brought the word derecho to residents of Ontario and Quebec, 2021 brought the word “heat dome” not only to Canadians but to those around the world who watched the calamitous weather unfold.

This year, Canada experienced some more under-the-dome weather. In the West, it was from August to October, with some calling it “Augtober.”

That was good news for some farmers who’d had a late start to the planting and growing season. From the middle of August to October, more than 500 maximum daily temperature records were beaten. Lytton, B.C. — the site of last year’s disastrous fire and the place of Canada’s highest temperature ever recorded at 49.6 C — once again broke a record at 39.6 C, the highest temperature ever recorded in the province in the month of September.

Meanwhile, in the east, summer-like weather lasted until mid-November thanks to a “Bermuda high” that settled over the region. Though when summer ended, cooler temperatures prevailed, but by November many places had recorded their all-time warmest temperatures that late in the year. Flowers began to bloom and people enjoyed extra time in the warmth and sun.

Wildfires on two coasts

Fire season wasn’t nearly as bad in 2022 as it was the year before. In fact, there were about 75 per cent fewer wildfires compared to 2021.

However, that didn’t last.

In July, Lytton became the focus once again, with a major fire breaking out just west of the village that was laid bare by wildfires in 2021. By July 27, more than 100 people were forced from their homes. More fires continued to rage, including near Penticton. High heat and winds helped the fire to spread, eventually putting 375 homes in the village of Olalla under an evacuation order.

A smoky atmosphere with trees in the background.

Meanwhile, central Newfoundland saw its worst wildfire season in 60 years due to hotter-than-normal temperatures and dry conditions. One fire grew to 172 square kilometres, while another reached 56 square kilometres.

The province eventually declared a state of emergency on Aug. 6 and water bombers were brought in from Quebec.

A wintry spring in British Columbia (without the flood)

After a brutal 2021, British Columbians may have been looking forward to a break. But they didn’t get it in spring.

Unfortunately, spring was cool and wet and quite overcast. On April 16, 27 minimum low-temperature records were set, including in Vancouver which had its coldest day since record-keeping began in 1892. In Victoria, from May 20 to June 18, 23 of those 30 days were rainy.

But there were some positives: the cooler, wetter conditions meant low flood risk and a late start to the fire season.

However, it wasn’t good news for farmers: it was too cold to plant, too wet to plant — and then it was both. Honeybees weren’t out en masse to help pollination, and by harvest time, some fruit was half its expected size or not sweet enough.

Super storms track across the Prairies in July

The Prairies are no stranger to severe thunderstorms. But this year, they got slammed hard.

July was the region’s stormiest month, bringing four powerful storms that included heavy rain, strong winds, large hail and tornadoes, stretching from the foothills of Alberta to eastern Manitoba.

On July 7, during a powerful thunderstorm, an EF-2 tornado touched down in Bergen, Alta.; EF-2 storms have sustained winds of 179 to 218 km/h. The storm also pounded parts of Calgary with wind gusts of 104 km/h.

The days following weren’t much better. Hail the size of golf balls and four tornadoes touched down in parts of Saskatchewan. Another tornado touched down near Argyle, Man. On July 8, lightning struck and killed 28 cattle.

And the region continued to be pounded by severe storms and tornadoes, lasting the rest of the month. They caused damage to forests, homes and farmers lost precious crops.

Montreal swamped by humongous rain system

Climate change is believed to be contributing to more frequent heavy rains, and cities are seeing the consequences. Urban flooding is becoming more common.

On Sept. 13,Montreal and some surrounding areas experienced a deluge. Moisture brought up from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean dumped 80 to 100 mm of rain in just two hours.

A storm drain is surrounded by swirling water.

L’Assomption, Longueuil and Joliette in Quebec received up to 120 mm of rain in two hours. Trois-Rivières and Shawinigan received 70 mm of rain.

The rain snarled traffic and interrupted service on Montreal’s Metro train system after water flowed into several stations. It’s estimated that the event cost $180 million in insured losses.

Record-breaking cold in time for the holidays

Winter cold descended in parts of the country after a cold air mass from Siberia extended down into northern and Western Canada beginning in late December 2021, and it just continued on in January.

A sign reads "Warming Centre" on a door in Vancouver's west end.

From B.C. to Saskatchewan to parts of Manitoba to northern Ontario, there were cold weather alerts galore, with wind chills ranging from –40 C to –55 C. Outdoor events were cancelled and emergency shelters were set up. Some car batteries couldn’t hack it and died.

But it was the Yukon where temperatures truly plummeted. Between Jan. 5 and 7, Whitehorse experienced its coldest temperature in roughly 17 years: –44.6 C. And Watson Lake reached a record-breaking –52.2 C on Jan. 6.

Three weekend January storms stress Atlantic Canada

Atlantic Canadians had a harsh start to 2022 themselves. Three storms arrived with either rain or snow, along with wind, pummelling the area beginning on Jan. 7.

That storm brought up to 30 to 50 cm of snow to northern Cape Breton, along with 80 km/h winds. The next day it was Newfoundland’s south coast that got hit with a nor’easter, dumping 45 cm of heavy snow and powerful winds.

Then, on Jan. 15, another storm hit parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Cape Breton once again got hit with heavy precipitation in the form of 84 mm of rain and an additional 11 cm of snow.

Finally, a third storm left more than 60,000 Nova Scotians without power.

In the end, the storms caused chaos as buses were pulled off the road, tens of thousands were without electricity and businesses were forced to close.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Mortillaro

Senior reporter, science

Based in Toronto, Nicole covers all things science for CBC News. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books. In 2021, she won the Kavli Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for a Quirks and Quarks audio special on the history and future of Black people in science. You can send her story ideas at Nicole.Mortillaro@cbc.ca.

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