Photo: Dave Bedard

The triple whammy of a late spring, dry summer and snowy autumn over many Prairie fields made it onto the medal podium, joining the West’s fires and smoke in Environment Canada’s top weather stories of 2018.

The federal environment and climate change department on Dec. 20 released its annual Top 10 list of the year’s biggest weather stories, most of which showed how a changing climate has disrupted many Canadians’ weather expectations.

“Farmers in the Prairies were hit with many challenges that affected both crops and livestock,” Environment Canada said in its release. “Spring arrived late. Frost conditions lasted until mid-May. A drought soon followed, from April to August, with only 60 per cent of the average rainfall. In July and August, sweltering heat shrivelled crops.

“Temperatures in September did not provide relief, with a cold front coming from Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Snow fell instead of rain, downgrading the quality of crops once more and hampering harvesting efforts.”

Some farmers were forced to sell livestock earlier than hoped, the department noted, due to rising feed costs.

The No. 1 and No. 2 weather stories touched many Canadians either right where they live, or directly above where they live. The No. 1 story featured the smoke caused by forest fires in the western provinces, lingering in Canada’s skies.

“With so many forest fires ablaze, fuelled by hot weather and drought, Western Canada dealt with persistent poor air quality and damage to their communities,” the department said.

The No. 2 spot went to the effects of a global summer heat wave. “Canadians also saw an unusually long stretch of hot weather causing health issues for many, especially in the province of Quebec, where 93 deaths were attributed to the heat.”

The No. 4 weather story of 2018 were powerful winds during May, which caused an estimated $1 billion in damages, followed in the No. 5 spot by tornadoes on the last day of summer in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.

“Extreme winds in southwestern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area and tornadoes in the Ottawa-Gatineau region destroyed homes, caused power outages, and generated damage costing Canadians, companies, and all levels of government billions of dollars.”

Spring floods in southern British Columbia and flash flooding on the Saint John River took the No. 6 and No. 7 spots respectively. The B.C. floods “threatened communities across the south, especially along the Okanagan, Kettle, and Fraser Rivers,” while at Fredericton, “the slow-rising Saint John River’s sudden swelling became the province’s largest, most impactful flood.”

Toronto’s “August deluge” was deemed the No. 8 story, followed by the “record cold start to a long winter” and a “cruel, cold and stormy April.”

Environment Canada ranks these stories from Nos. 1 to 10 considering factors such as the impacts they had on Canada and Canadians, the extent of the affected areas, economic effects, and their “longevity” as top news stories.

“The science is clear: climate change is real, and Canadians experience its impacts through more frequent and intense severe weather events,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in the department’s release.

“Forest fires, floods, and extreme heat are having a human and economic cost for people across the country. With the hard work of our climatologists and other scientists, we can better protect our health, our homes, and our communities and drive momentum to tackle climate change.”

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