January 1, 2018

Canada’s Top Weather Stories of 2018

Canada is not as cold as it once was, with every region and all seasons warmer than ever before. While Canada is still the snowiest country, less snow is falling in our southern regions. Our mountain snowpack and glaciers are disappearing rapidly, and frost-free days are increasing. Our growing seasons are longer, but so are the length and intensity of our wildfire seasons. In the Great Lakes, the past decade has featured both record high and low water levels. When it rains, it often rains harder and longer, with higher incidents of flash flooding, especially in our cities. Storms seem to be getting bigger and moving more slowly, leaving more damage in their wakes.

Scientists from Environment and Climate Change Canada have concluded that the risk of western fires since 2015 has increased two to six times due to human-induced warming and that, in the Arctic, extreme sea-ice minima in recent years would have been extremely unlikely in the absence of human influences. In fact, scientists have made a clear link between climate change and extreme weather events that include heat waves, wildfires, flooding, and sea ice disappearance.

Weather changes in Canada are happening abruptly not subtly, rapidly not gradually. As Canadians continue to experience more and more extreme weather, intense month-long heat waves, suffocating smoke and haze from wildfires, and extreme flooding will simply be the norm mere decades from now. Events that were once rare or unusual for our grandparents are now more commonplace, while we all become more vulnerable due to extreme weather. As the Top Ten Weather Stories of 2018 bear out, Canadians must become more resilient—not only for what lies ahead but also for the variations in climate, which are already here.

This year featured extreme and impactful weather events that caused costly damage across the country. Historic river flooding occurred in British Columbia and New Brunswick, while the Greater Toronto Area experienced flooding almost every time it received a heavy rainfall. In the North, significant losses of sea ice cover and reductions in ice thickness continued; however, year-to-year variability in ice extent presented significant challenges to Arctic communities and for marine navigation. Paulatuk, Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, and other villages were unable to receive some or all of their ship-based annual resupply resulting in shortages of some goods and much higher costs to residents, businesses, and government. Like last year, this year was hot and dry for long periods in the Prairies, which led to serious hardships for growers and ranchers. However, this year, once the harvest got underway, early winter cold and snow set in for nearly six weeks. In July, uncontrollable fires raged across British Columbia; in August, Ontario. Firefighters in British Columbia began this year like the one before, bailing and bagging to help residents with record spring floods before moving on to fight nearly three times the average number of fires in a province-wide state of emergency. Month-long infernos fouled the air with unprecedented levels of smoke and haze, impacting millions of Canadians from coast to coast.

When it comes to tornadoes, it’s never possible to get an exact count. In 2018, there were 49 confirmed and possible tornadoes, which was fewer than normal. All were weak except for a killer in Alonsa, Manitoba, on August 6, which caused the first tornadic death in Canada in seven years and a family of strong tornadoes that pummeled parts of eastern Ontario and western Quebec on the last day of summer. And what a summer it was, with relentless heat from Victoria to St. John’s. Ottawa had its second-warmest Canada Day dating back almost to Confederation. Montréal had its warmest July on record with deadly consequences. Hundreds of daily records fell in the West, including Calgary’s all-time hottest day ever. For some cities, it was back-to-back opposites, with April the coldest on record followed by the warmest May ever. If you ask most Canadians, they’ll tell you that the long, hot summer was either a hummer or a bummer, but it was the never-ending winter that irked them the most. The cold grabbed hold early in the season and wouldn’t let go until May.

For the 12 month period—from December 2017 to November 2018—every season came out warmer than normal, an average 0.4 °C above normal. Despite a cold La Niña at the start of the year, 2018 soon turned warmer than normal for the 22nd consecutive year. According to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization, 2018 was the 40th consecutive year globally with above-normal temperatures and the fourth-warmest year since observations began 135 years ago. The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years.