Tornadoes to floods: The year in weather
Published Tuesday, December 29, 2009 7:39AM EST
When it comes to spectacular weather events, Aug. 20 will be the defining day of 2009 in the GTA and Ontario -- and possibly in Canadian weather history.
There were 18 separate tornadoes spawned that day, including two F2 tornadoes -- the first time in a quarter-century that had happened. The province experienced 29 tornadoes this season, a provincial record.
Geoff Coulson, an emergency preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, told ctvtoronto.ca that he first got an inkling it would be a very busy day as he watched severe thunderstorms move over the Windsor-Sarnia area around noon.
"They didn't produce tornadoes in and of themselves, but they produced some damaging wind gusts," he said.
And as the afternoon developed, the number of thunderstorm cells "just blossomed," he said.
Warnings of potential tornado activity began at about 3:30 p.m.
The first tornado hit the little town of Durham, located in Grey County, sometime around 4 p.m. That F2 tornado would ravage a campground and cause the death of a boy, Owen McPherson, who was only 11.
That same line of tornados would go on to cause devastation in the Town of the Blue Mountains.
The GTA communities of Woodbridge and Maple would also be struck, with the final tornado occurring at 9:45 p.m. near North Frontenac County's Buckshot Lake in the province's east, which is about 20 kilometres east of Bon Echo Provincial Park.
The storms stayed active for about 10 hours and covered about 500 kilometres.
"One of the most telling things in the presentation is watching the radar animation from mid-day until about midnight, watching these thunderstorms literally explode across southern Ontario and then march from west to east, generating what turned out to be the 18 confirmed tornadoes that day," Coulson said.
That is an Ontario record, but also may be a Canadian record, he said, adding there was a 17-tornado day on Aug. 2, 2006.
The Barrie and Grand Valley F4 tornadoes of May 31, 1985 are the worst for loss of life, but the Aug. 20 tornadoes left a trail of heartbreak and destruction, especially in Vaughan and Maple. More than 600 homes were damaged, 38 severely. A handful of those had to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.
The Fujita scale goes from FO, the weakest, to F5, the most powerful -- and most rare. An F2 tornado has peak winds of between 180 kilometres per hour and 240 km/h.
"When you get to F2, one of the criteria is total roof removal of a well-built home, and that's what we saw in Vaughan," Coulson said, adding he's amazed there wasn't more loss of life.
The deadliest incident took place on a fishing camp in far northwestern Ontario. On July 9, an F2 tornado lifted a cabin on Ear Lake near Dryden, then tossed it in the water. The three men inside died.
One of the men was from Oklahoma, one of the most active tornado zones on Earth.
They were the first people to die in an Ontario tornado since 1995.
To show how arbitrary fate can be, Coulson said the neighbouring cabin was also lifted up, but the floor fell out. "They basically fell a couple metres to the ground and got some scrapes and bruises -- and then watched their cabin be destroyed as well," he said.
Other than that, it wasn't a big year for spectacular weather events.
We got plunged into a deep freeze for a period in January. The mean temperature for the month was -7 C at Toronto City and -8.8 at Toronto Pearson, which is 2.8 and 2.5 degrees C below average.
In February, we caught a break, with a warm spell melting most of the accumulated snow. On Feb. 7, the temperature peaked at 8 C (the daytime average is -2 C). This caused some previously frozen rivers to break up. Ice jams resulted in some cases. A cold snap hit right at month's end.
Heavy rainfall in late March helped push the Toronto rainfall reading up to 83 mm, from a normal of 42 mm. The warming temperatures had the OPP warning about lead-footed drivers coming out of hibernation.
April was another wet month, with Toronto City and Toronto Pearson recording precipitation that was far above average. We got a final blast of winter on April 7 that had the OPP warning people to stay off the roads.
May and June weren't remarkable weather months, although gardeners got off to a slow start.
A yucky summer
Summer supposedly started on Jun 21. However, "July was so cold and rainy that most Ontarians were left to wonder when the summer would arrive," Environment Canada said in a news release.
Those who love sultry summer nights got cheated. Toronto is usually good for six days of plus-30 degrees Celsius temperatures in July, normally our hottest month.
"I don't think we had any," Coulson said, noting the peak temperature recorded at Toronto Pearson was 28.3C on July 11.
For 22 days, the temperature didn't even reach 25C.
In late July, the skies opened up, causing localized flooding in certain neighbourhoods such as the Beach.
Toronto's city weather station ended up with 119.5 millimetres of rain. The average is 67.5 mm. One casualty was the Canadian Open golf tournament, which experienced several rain delays.
Early August also saw some severe summer storm systems before Tornado Day on Aug. 20.
In general, air conditioners weren't overworked in the summer of 2009.
Camping on the last weekend of August offered solitude. At Sibbald Point Provincial Park on Lake Simcoe, 480 of 596 campsites sat empty. Provincial park attendance was down six per cent over its summer average.
A glorious fall
But then came fall.
"The first three weeks of September were remarkably warm and dry across Ontario, such that precipitation totals for the whole month (as discussed above) were considerably below normal," Environment Canada wrote.
October blossomed beautifully into its fall colours.
That led into November, which didn't see a flake of snow fall in the city of Toronto for the entire month. That hasn't happened for 70 years.
Coulson was one of those golfers who got his last round in last month. Most years, golf is done by October. His job was pretty easy at that time -- he had virtually no weather watches or warnings to issue.
"Maybe it was a little late for most folks," but the mild temperatures allowed Coulson to put his Christmas lights up "in my shorts."
In central and northern Ontario, November temperature records that stood for decades got shattered. "This was a very noteworthy November," he said, adding it was also the fourth-sunniest on record.
As December 2009 winds down, a a "snow-mageddon" event (remember that memorable turn of phrase from last year?) event for Toronto appears unlikely.
In the Muskokas, however, a real snow-mageddon occurred in starting Dec. 10. The 48-hour blizzard left cottage country covered by more than 100 centimetres of snow, snarling highways and burying vehicles. One man died of a heart attack trying to shovel out a vehicle.
As a look-ahead, Coulson did warn the winter period for southern Ontario is forecast to be colder than normal, but qualified that by saying it doesn't mean we'll be in the icebox the whole time.
With reports from CTV correspondents