Hurricanes in Canada: How often they hit and who is at risk

ABOVE: Dramatic videos showing devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

As residents in Houston continue to feel the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey, another storm could be brewing and heading to Atlantic Canada.

Harvey, which made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and dropped heavy rain as a tropical storm, sent destructive floods into Houston and forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

A power generator tips in in front of a Texas hospital as Hurricane Harvey hits Friday. Courtney Sacco /Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP
Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday. AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Wilford Martinez, right, is rescued from his flooded car by Harris County Sheriff's Department Richard Wagner along Interstate 610 in floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday. AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Two kayakers try to beat the current pushing them down an overflowing Brays Bayou from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Sunday. Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle via AP
A drives moves through flood waters left behind by Hurricane Harvey, Saturday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The storm has not had a significant impact on Canada, but Halifax meteorologist Jim Murtha said the system currently developing in southern U.S. could bring heavy rainfall and strong winds to parts of Atlantic Canada mid-next week or beyond.

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If the storm forms and unfolds with tropical characteristics, he said the next name on the list is Irma.

READ MORE: Harvey likely to have little impact on Canada – but the next storm might

Canadian cities and towns aren’t hit as hard as places in the United States, but hurricanes and tropical storms can have a significant impact on the country, especially on the east coast.

In fact, the Canadian Hurricane Centre was created in 1987 after it became clear that Canadians needed an expert source for information that was focused specifically on how tropical cyclones affect Canada. Before the creation of the centre, Canadians relied largely on forecasts from the U.S. for hurricane information.

WATCH: Hurricane Harvey’s impact felt by Albertans

Click to play video: 'Hurricane Harvey’s impact felt by Albertans' Hurricane Harvey’s impact felt by Albertans
Hurricane Harvey’s impact felt by Albertans – Aug 28, 2017

What exactly are hurricanes?

Hurricanes are made up of masses of warm, humid tropical air with high winds exceeding 118 km/h and torrential rains. When a hurricane reaches land, it pushes a wall of ocean water ashore, which is called a storm surge, according to NASA. Heavy rain and storm surge from a hurricane can cause flooding.

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READ MORE: Katrina, Sandy, and now Harvey: Here’s how hurricanes get their names

The storms have a life span of one to 30 days and occur most often during August and September though the season runs from June to November, according to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.

Sometimes these powerful storms — or their remnants — remain strong enough as they track up the Atlantic coast from the Caribbean to reach parts of eastern Canada.

Canadian regions more affected?

Atlantic Canada is most at risk for hurricanes and tropical storms, according to Global News’ chief meteorologist, Anthony Farnell.

“Especially Nova Scotia,” he said. “On average they get one hurricane every three years in Atlantic Canada.”

WATCH: Rising global temperatures could increase intensity of Atlantic Canada hurricanes

Click to play video: 'Rising global temperatures could increase intensity of Atlantic Canada hurricanes' Rising global temperatures could increase intensity of Atlantic Canada hurricanes
Rising global temperatures could increase intensity of Atlantic Canada hurricanes – May 25, 2017

However, areas of central Canada, like Ontario and Quebec, can be affected by gusty winds and torrential rain when hurricanes move across the U.S., Farnell said. But many of these storms typically lose strength as they move over land.

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For example, in 2011 the post-tropical storm Irene, had a significant and deadly impact on Quebec. The storm brought a massive rain shield which extended from Kingston, Ont., to Halifax, N.S., and from New Jersey to Newfoundland and Labrador.

At its worst, Irene’s winds topped 113 km/h east of Quebec City and rainfall amounts approached 170 millimetres in just a few hours. It caused basements to flood, roads to collapse and triggered landslides — even killing a Montreal motorist.

British Columbia has very rare encounters with Pacific hurricanes.

How big are hurricanes in Canada?

According to Environment Canada, a hurricane stronger than Category 3 (Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5) is virtually impossible in Canada because the country’s water temperatures – even when they are warm – are simply too cold to support such a storm.

READ MORE: Canada’s most destructive hurricanes

A Category 3 (or higher) hurricane would have to be moving rapidly towards Atlantic Canada, with warmer-than-usual coastal waters and the right atmospheric conditions to be present for the storm to keep its strength.

“When storms reach Atlantic Canada, they are weakening because of water around is just too cold to maintain it,” Farnell said.

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“It’s also quickly moving because of the jet stream, meaning hurricanes are unlikely to sit around for five days like they are doing with Harvey.”

Past Canadian hurricanes

2010: Hurricane Igor

Hurricane Igor was one of the biggest storms to hit Newfoundland. It wreaked havoc on the area when it struck Sept. 21, 2010. The Category 1 storm caused $200 million in damage and led to one death. Environment Canada called the storm the province’s “worst by far.”

READ MORE: Military ends Hurricane Igor relief effort

High winds from hurricane Igor topples trees in St. John's, Nfld., On Sept. 21, 2010. Hurricane Igor ripped across eastern Newfoundland with a savagery that forced flooded, wind-battered towns to declare states of emergency, isolating some communities as rivers overflowed and roads washed away. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Paul Daly
Storm drains were unable to cope as heavy rains from Hurricane Igor hit St. John's. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
Hurricanes Karl, Igor, and Julia on Sept. 19, 2010. NOAA Environmental Visualization Library

2007: Hurricane Noel

In November 2007, the coast of Nova Scotia was battered by Hurricane Noel, which knocked out power to more than 170,000 homes and business in the province after battering the Caribbean and U.S. east coast.

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Heavy rain and winds reaching 180 km/h washed out roads and uprooted trees. Damage was reported in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and even eastern Quebec.

A youth walks along the washed-out causeway in Cow Bay, N.S. near Halifax on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007. A powerful storm, remnants of hurricane Noel, swept through the Atlantic region leaving thousands without power. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
A crosswalk sign was knocked over by strong winds in Dartmouth, N.S. after the storm hit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
People struggle to walk during high winds and rain, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007 at Nauset Beach in Eastham, Mass. as the remnants of Hurricane Noel hit the East coast. AP Photo/Lisa Poole

2003: Hurricane Juan

One of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit Canada was in September 2003 when Hurricane Juan struck the eastern shores of Nova Scotia. Eight people were killed as Juan ripped through the province, causing $200 million in damage and leaving 300,000 people without power for two weeks.

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The storm brought winds of 140 km/h, tearing down hundreds of kilometres of power lines and about 100 million trees. Huge waves destroyed marinas all along the coast.

WATCH: Hurricane Juan anniversary

1978: Hurricane Ella

This storm moved into Canadian waters as a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 215 km/h, making Ella’s winds the strongest in over 100 years to be recorded inside Canadian territory, according to Environment Canada.

1954: Hurricane Hazel

Perhaps the most destructive hurricane in modern Canadian history ripped through southern Ontario in October 1954 after crossing the Caribbean and eastern U.S.

Hurricane Hazel left 81 dead and a path of destruction in its wake. Almost 2,000 families were left homeless as winds hit 124 km/h  and rains flooded low-lying areas.

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Hurricane Hazel 1954: bridge washed out, Bloor Street west of Montgomery Road in west-end Toronto. Hurricane Hazel pounded the city of Toronto with 110 km/hr winds and more than 200 millimetres of rain in less than 24 hours beginning Friday, October 15, 1954. Canadian Press
Thousands were left homeless, and 81 were killed as severe flooding devastated low-lying areas in and around the city. Areas to the west were especially hard hit and property damage was extensive as bridges and streets were washed out and homes washed away. The Canadian Press
Aerial view of aftermath of Hurricane Hazel. The Canadian Press
A family carries clothing from their shattered home after Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto in 1954. (Toronto Star Syndicate[2003] all rights reserved).

The Greater Toronto Area was the worst hit. The Humber River swelled and broke through a footbridge, washed away an entire block of homes along the edge of the river. More than 200 millimetres of rain fell in 24 hours – the worst flooding in Toronto in 200 years.

The Galveston Hurricane: 1900

It is estimated that between 52 and 232 people were killed after the remnants of this hurricane crossed into Eastern Canada between Sept. 12 and Sept. 13, 1900.

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The hurricane began in the Atlantic Ocean before crossing over Cuba and making landfall in Galveston, Texas. It is estimated that the Galveston Hurricane was a Category 4 and by the time it reached Canada, it is believed that it was still at hurricane strength, but down to a Category 1.

Are hurricanes increasing in Canada?

The frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic changes every year, according to Environment Canada. Hurricane formation is usually cyclical; with an increase in storm activity for a 25-year period, followed by a decrease in storm activity for 25 years.

Atlantic Canada is currently in a “warm cycle,” which can lead to an uptick in stronger storms, Farnell said. And, we’re not out of the woods yet, he added, as hurricane season peaks in mid-September in Canada.

WATCH: Canadian east coast preparing for oncoming harsh storms

— With files from the Canadian Press


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