'There is no vaccine for extreme weather': Ranking 'destructive' weather events of 2020

Elisabetta Bianchini
·4 min read
Calgary, Alta., hailstorm/Australian bush (Yahoo News Canada/The Canadian Press)

The past year was overhauled by the global COVID-19 pandemic but there were also a lot of “destructive” weather events across Canada, highlighted in Environment and Climate Change Canada’s list of top 10 weather stories of 2020.

“Extreme weather did not take a time out from 2020, no region and season was spared,” David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada said at the presentation of the list earlier this month. “There is no vaccine for extreme weather and across Canada in 2020, it was another destructive and disruptive year.”

“I think it was also one of the most impactful years on the numbers of Canadians affected by the weather.”

Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ) estimates that there were nine major catastrophic weather events in Canada in 2020, with a total insured loss of an estimated $2.5 billion.

The top ten Canadian weather stories of 2020, identified by Environment and Climate Change Canada, are as follows:

  1. Calgary’s Billion-Dollar Hailer

  2. B.C.’s September Skies: All Smoke, No Fire

  3. Fort McMurray’s Flood of a Century

  4. Endless Hot Summer in the East

  5. St. John’s Snowmageddon

  6. Record Hurricane Season and Canada Wasn’t Spared

  7. The Year’s Most Powerful Tornado

  8. Frigid Spring Helps Canadians Self-Isolate

  9. Fall in Canada – Winter in the West and Summer in the East

  10. August Long-Weekend Storms: East and West

Yahoo Canada also has a list of the top ten user searches for weather and natural disasters from the past year, with a more international perspective.

The top ten weather stories of 2020, based on searches from Yahoo Canada users, are as follows:

  1. Australia Fires

  2. Hurricane Laura

  3. Hurricane Teddy

  4. Hurricane Sally

  5. Hurricane Delta

  6. Alaska Earthquake

  7. Jamaica Earthquake

  8. Oregon Fires

  9. Nashville Tornado

  10. Hurricane Isaias

Calgary’s Billion-Dollar Hailer

Calgary, Alta., is regularly present in Environment and Climate Change Canada’s annual list of the top weather stories, and this year is no different.

On Jun. 13, the city was pummelled with hail the size of grapefruits, tennis balls and golf-balls, along with strong winds tornado scares, dark funnel clouds, lightning, torrential rains, and flash flooding.

This is the fourth most expensive insured natural disaster in Canadian history. Insurers estimated the value of the 63,000 claims at about $1.3 billion. More than 32,000 vehicles were damaged with vehicle write-offs totalling $386 million.

Power outages were widespread across more than 10,000 customers, and public transit services services were halted due to flooding.

People windsurf in Burrard inlet as the heavy smog and smell of wood smoke hangs over the Vancouver, British Columbia skyline in the background on September, 16, 2020. - Smoke from California and Oregon wildfires has cloaked Vancouver, known for its majestic mountain views and fresh ocean breezes, in the dirtiest air in the world this week. Days have been spent smarting under a thick haze that has irritated eyes and throats, and sent asthmatics gasping for breath. It has also complicated Covid-19 testing. On September 18, 2020, despite forecasted smoke-clearing rain storms, the city, 800 miles (1,300 km) north of the biggest California fires, topped for the second time this week the World Air Quality Index for worst air quality, after briefly ceding first place to fire-stricken Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Don MacKinnon / AFP) (Photo by DON MACKINNON/AFP via Getty Images)
People windsurf in Burrard inlet as the heavy smog and smell of wood smoke hangs over the Vancouver, British Columbia skyline in the background on September, 16, 2020. (Photo by DON MACKINNON/AFP via Getty Images)

B.C.’s September Skies: All Smoke, No Fire

Although wildfire threats were quite minimal in B.C. in 2020, with the province seeing only a third of the fires that burned in 2018, there was a record amount of imported wildfire smoke in B.C. this year.

Around Labour Day, powerful winds pulled in smoke from the U.S., which resulted in fog-like air and a burning smell for 11 days.

In mid-September, dense smoke from forest fires in Washington, Oregon and California resulted in people in Victoria, Vancouver, Kamloops, Kelowna, and the Kootenay area experiencing the worst air quality in the region’s history.

Vancouver and Victoria, in particular, registered 70 per cent to 80 per cent more smoky hours above the previous record from August 2018. This lasted for eight days, impacting about four million people. The long-term effects, particularly for people with respiratory problems, are still unknown.

Australia Fires

The year had a devastating start in Australia as bushfires burned from 2019 into 2020, with three billion animals killed or displaced.

“It’s hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals,” a statement rom WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman reads. “This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.”

There were 33 people who died as a results of the fires, including nine firefighters.

Back in February, the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) stated that 3,094 houses were lost and more than 17 million hectares burned.

As the bushfires raged on in Australia, Canada sent several waves of fire management personnel to help fight the blaze.

Hurricane Laura

Category 4 Hurricane Laura devastated Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas at the end of August, while the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage on in the U.S. and around the world.

Hundreds of thousands were left without power and homes were decimated, with more than 580,000 residents ordered to evacuate.

It was the strongest hurricane to hit the state of Louisiana since 1856, with winds up to 150 mph (more than 240 km/h).

On Sept. 9, the Louisiana Department of Health confirmed 27 deaths tied to the hurricane. Several of the deaths were due to trees falling, while many were actually caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of a generator.