© Guardian photo
Hundreds of beach goers took advantage of the hot and sunny weather, enjoying the surf and sand at Covehead Harbour in this Guardian file photo. The hot summer of 2012 is Environment Canada's top weather story of the year.
Canada coped with a slew of natural disasters from freak storms to floods this calendar year, but the country’s meteorological watchdog says Canadians will remember 2012 as the year when the weather was too hot to handle.
Environment Canada says unusually high temperatures from coast to coast ranked as the top climate-related story of the year.
Senior climatologist David Phillips says Canadians experienced warmer than average conditions right through the year, making the stretch from January to November the fourth-warmest on record since 1948.
Phillips says the three-month stretch from July to September was the warmest such period on record over the past 65 years.
He says a highly active hurricane season culminating in superstorm Sandy was the second most notable weather event of the year, since it cost Canadians more than $100 million in property damage.
Extreme flooding throughout British Columbia rounded out the top three weather stories of the year.
Phillips said the prolonged warm spell that defined the 2012 climate agenda can’t be attributed to a single season or phenomenon.
“It wasn’t just about a nice, fuzzy average temperature for the whole year,” Phillips said. “It was composed of a winter that was cancelled and a summer that seemed to go on very long to be one of the hottest on record.”
Unusually temperate winter conditions altered the look and feel of the entire season even in the country’s arctic regions, Phillips said, adding national temperature averages saw the mercury rise 3.6 degrees above seasonal norms.
The month of March was a particularly dramatic illustration of the trend, he said, adding the summer-like conditions that shattered thousands of temperature records throughout the country catapulted that month’s mild conditions to fourth spot on Environment Canada’s list of notable 2012 weather stories.
But come the fall, Phillips said the Maritime and Central provinces that basked in the March heat witnessed the other end of the spectrum as the Atlantic hurricane season swung into particularly high gear.
A total of 19 tropical storms roiled North American skies this year, Phillips said, adding the figure is roughly double what’s seen during a more typical season. While only 10 of those morphed into full-fledged hurricanes, some of them left their mark on Canadian soil.
Hurricanes Chris, Isaac and Leslie brought heavy rainfalls to areas ranging from Newfoundland and Labrador to Ontario, but all paled compared to the damage inflicted when the remnants of Hurricane Sandy made themselves felt in late October.
At least two people were killed when the system reached Canadian shores, Environment Canada said, adding the storm also caused more than $100 million in property damage and left 150,000 people without power.
Phillips predicts the year ahead won’t offer much respite for storm-weary Canadians.
“Since 1995, we’ve only had two years where we’ve had normal or a quieter than normal hurricane season,” he said. “Clearly we’re into a cycle where we see more of these tropical storms that are appearing in the Atlantic. The water is warmer, the winds favour it.”
British Columbia residents who were spared the wrath of Sandy didn’t have much cause to celebrate, as they were still recovering from a series of devastating floods earlier in the summer, Phillips said.
An unusually deep snow pack accumulated during the winter, combined with June downpours that saw some areas receive more rain in a day than they would usually see in a month, spelled disaster for dozens of communities along the province’s rivers.
Widespread flooding swept away bridges, damaged local infrastructure and even touched off a fatal landslide near Johnson’s Landing, B.C., that buried four people under a pile of rubble.
Water figured largely in the rest of Environment Canada’s top weather picks of 2012.
The unusually warm and wet summer on the Prairies nabbed fifth spot, while sixth place went to unprecedented melting of sea ice over the Arctic Ocean.
Urban flooding in Thunder Bay, Ont., Montreal and Hamilton came eighth, Calgary’s massive hail storm secured ninth spot and flooding caused by an ice jam on New Brunswick’s Saint John river rounded out the top 10.
Environment Canada bucked the trend with its seventh-place honours, which went to serious droughts and heat waves that hampered crop production on Canada’s east coast.
Phillips said Canadians hoping for a more stable weather map in 2013 would be wise not to hold their breath.
“There’s a lot of jokers in Mother Nature’s deck from the weather. We have seen a lot of it in recent years, and I don’t think we’ve seen everything yet.”