A year of wild weather: Environment Canada releases the Top 10 weather stories of 2018

Every year, Environment and Climate Change Canada releases its top ten weather stories. And this year, there was no shortage of extreme weather events across the country.

From coast-to-coast-to-coast, virtually nowhere was spared extreme weather in 2018.But people are most likely to remember the raging wildfires that consumed British Columbia, the number one story on the list. 

Though the fire season had a late start, by Aug. 15, the province had issued a state of emergency as 566 fires had ignited.

And they just kept on going.

By the end of August, approximately 12,985 square kilometres were burning in B.C., beating the worst fire season in the province’s history — set only one year earlier —  when 12,161 square kilometres burned.

The disaster didn’t stop at provincial borders.

Smoke from the fires — combined with those from Washington state, Oregon and California — drifted straight across the country. For weeks, more than 10 million Canadians, from B.C. to the Atlantic Provinces, were impacted by the smoke.

In this image taken by NASA’s MODIS satellite on Aug. 24, smoke is seen stretching from B.C. to Newfoundland and Labrador. (NASA/Worldview)

“You didn’t have to see the flames to be impacted,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada who has been compiling this list for more than 20 years. “There’s no question about it: Hotter and drier and milder winters are sort of greasing the skids to get more of these [fires]. But the smoke… it was so dominant across the country.”

In fact, it was so bad that cities from Kelowna, B.C. — which was in the thick of it — to Winnipeg saw a higher number of days than normal with smoke and haze. Kelowna experienced 290 hours of hazy, smoke-filled air, much higher than the norm of three.

“From a health point of view … to me it was the number one story,” Phillips said.

The fires were a perfect example of how the weather doesn’t have to be in your backyard for you to be affected by it, he said. “You can fight the flames but you can’t fight the smoke.” 

‘Part of a global heat wave’

The heat was another big weather story of 2018.

On the July 1 long weekend, the heat put a bit of a damper on Canada Day festivities in the nation’s capital when the humidex value reached 48 C. Attendance for celebrations in Ottawa was 6,000, down from an expected 20,000.

In Quebec, more than 90 people died of heat-related causes after a stifling heat wave where temperatures sat in the high 30s for several days in August. To compound matters, humidex values in some areas reached into the mid-40s.

Canada wasn’t alone; people straight across the globe were feeling the heat. In Japan, more than 20,000 people were taken to hospital with heat stroke in early July as temperatures soared to 35 C in some areas. More than 70 people died as a result of heat-related causes.

Record heat was also recorded across Scandinavia. Several locations in the Arctic Circle reported temperatures of 30 C or higher.

“It was part of a global heat wave,” Phillips said. “There was no escaping it.”

Other stories include the hot and dry conditions in the Prairies that had devastating effects on agriculture; storms in Ontario that cost the province upwards of $1 billion; the tornadoes in Ottawa-Gatineau on the last day of summer and the floods in B.C. and New Brunswick.

Laurel Wingrove assesses the tornado damage to her home in Dunrobin, Ont., outside of Ottawa after a tornado tore through the area in September. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

While not directly in the top ten stories, Phillips said that the north isn’t left out in the cold. In fact, he noted the Arctic heat wave, heat in the Yukon and hours of blizzards as just some of the stories for the region.

Phillips said he has noticed big changes with the list over the 23 years he has been compiling it.

“In those early years, it was hard to come up with top ten stories,” Phillips said. “But now it’s hard to pare it down.”

With a rapidly changing climate, he said years from now the weather in 2018 will seem normal.

“I don’t think it will ever be quiet.”

Visit Environment and Climate Change Canada to see the detailed list.

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