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Calgary hailstorm tops Environment Canada’s annual Top 10 weather stories list

Click to play video 'Storm leaves some Alberta roads covered in hail and vehicles, buildings damaged' Storm leaves some Alberta roads covered in hail and vehicles, buildings damaged
WATCH ABOVE: (June 14, 2020): A storm that moved through Alberta on Saturday left some cities, including Calgary and Airdrie, with hail-coated roads. The golf-ball-sized ice pellets also damaged siding on several buildings and left cracks on some vehicles' windshields while shattering others – Jun 14, 2020

It was another year of record-breaking disasters and crazy, dangerous weather from coast to coast, says Environment Canada’s senior climatologist.

A vicious hailstorm in Calgary wrote off more cars than Albertans normally buy in an entire year. Heat in Ontario quadrupled Toronto’s normal number of hot, stuffy nights.

Read more: Southern Alberta storm caused almost $1.2B in damage, 4th most costly Canadian natural disaster

The East Coast experienced eight hurricanes compared with the normal two or three. A chokehold of wildfire smoke gave southern British Columbia some of the dirtiest air in the world.

A flood washed residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., from their homes.

“It was an expensive year. It was an extreme year,” said David Phillips. “There were no shockers.”

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Read more: Fort McMurray flood caused $228M in insured damages

Compiling the annual list of Top 10 Canadian weather events since 1996 hasn’t left Phillips blase. It’s just that, after 24 straight years of normal or above-normal temperatures, this is what Canada can now expect.

“Scientists have seen this very clear link between climate change and weather extremes,” said Phillips. “There’s no denying it any more.”

The year 2020, he said, was remarkable for the impact weather and climatic events outside Canada had inside its borders.

Click to play video 'Alberta declares June 13 Calgary hailstorm an extraordinary event, offers relief funding' Alberta declares June 13 Calgary hailstorm an extraordinary event, offers relief funding
Alberta declares June 13 Calgary hailstorm an extraordinary event, offers relief funding – Jun 25, 2020

Waters in the Atlantic, far off Canadian shores, were up to three degrees warmer than average.

“Conditions outside of Canada made for a more active hurricane season,” Phillips said. “It was a hyperactive season.”

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Smoke from vast wildfires in the U.S. Pacific Northwest drifted into southern B.C. and as far as the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Victoria and Vancouver had up to 80 per cent more smoky hours in September than they did in 2018 when the province was ablaze.

“What 2020 showed, through smoky skies in British Columbia, frequent hurricanes in the East, and vanishing ice in the North, is that climate change occurring elsewhere outside of Canada is also having an increasingly greater impact on the health and well-being of Canadians at home,” Phillips said.

Read more: Photos and videos show scale of Christie Mountain wildfire in B.C.’s South Okanagan

Weather events cost Canadians $2.5 billion overall this year — and that’s just insured losses.

Phillips’s top weather story occurred June 13 when golf-ball-sized hail pounded Calgary.

Driven by 70-kilometre winds, the icy missiles shattered windows, downed trees and battered 32,000 cars. The flood that followed swamped streets, led to blackouts in more than 10,000 homes and cost about $1.3 billion in insurance claims.

Read more: Alberta government to offer disaster support following ‘tragic’ thunderstorm in Calgary and area

B.C.’s smoky September took the next spot.

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At one point, Victoria was shrouded for 186 consecutive hours. In some places, temperatures fell eight degrees as smoke blotted the sun. Vancouver’s air was up to seven times more toxic than it had been during B.C.’s 2018 wildfires.

Click to play video 'BC wildfires: Aerial footage shows Palmer Fire near Osoyoos' BC wildfires: Aerial footage shows Palmer Fire near Osoyoos
BC wildfires: Aerial footage shows Palmer Fire near Osoyoos – Aug 24, 2020

Back to Alberta for third place.

A cold spring followed by rapid warmth and rain caused ice jams that raised water levels on rivers in the Fort McMurray area between 4 1/2 and six metres in a matter of hours. The ice slabs were so big explosives couldn’t remove them and 13,000 residents had to leave their homes for more than a week.

Read more: Fort McMurray resident flees flood by boat: ‘It brought back all those wildfire memories’

An endless – and merciless – summer in Central and Eastern Canada was fourth.

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On May 27, Montreal hit 36.6 C, an all-time May record. In June, Quebec broke 140 temperature records. Ottawa’s average temperature for the hot spell was its highest in 145 years.

Fredericton had the most days above 30 C in 50 years. Summerside, P.E.I. had 10 such days compared with the average of one.

Read more: ‘Heat dome’ brings intense heat to eastern Canada, United States

It wouldn’t be a Canadian list without a snowfall story. This year it came from St. John’s, NL., where a blizzard deemed a “bomb cyclone” in January howled 18 straight hours. Nearly a metre of snow buried cars up to their hood ornaments.

Read more: ‘Bomb cyclone’ leaves thousands of flights in Canada and U.S. delayed or cancelled

Canada needs to come to grips with climate change, said Phillips, who added that the COVID-19 pandemic may show reason for optimism.

“The lesson from the pandemic is that the world mobilized,” Phillips said.

“Science is the winner. Climate change (science) may very well benefit from that.”

At least, that’s his hope.

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“There’s no vaccine for extreme weather.”

The remaining Top 5 weather stories, as chosen by Phillips, are:

6. Atlantic hurricanes: Eight named hurricanes hit Canada in 2020, equivalent of three storm seasons in one. Although they hit southern U.S. areas harder, they still dumped rains of up to 150 millimetres as far inland as Kingston, Ont., and packed winds of up to 90 km/h.

7. Manitoba tornado: A teenage girl and boy were killed when a tornado threw their pickup truck for a kilometre. The year’s most powerful twister, the deadliest in 11 years, generated winds of up to 260 km/h.

8. Cruel spring: Winter left the Prairies slowly. Alberta recorded a temperature of -22 C at the end of March. More than 80 per cent of Canada recorded a cooler-than-average spring.

9: Tale of two autumns: November in Alberta and central Saskatchewan brought wind and snow, with 50 hours of it in Saskatoon and two-metre drifts in Swift Current, Sask. Meanwhile, Ontario enjoyed a warm fall. At one point, Collingwood, Ont., hit 26 C, the warmest November day in 60 years.

10. Stormy August long weekend: Parts of Alberta and Ontario had more than their share of rain. Tropical moisture brought up to 70 millimetres of rain to the Toronto area, while parts of Alberta were battered with 100-km/h winds and hail that left behind 4,000 insurance claims and $55 million in property loss.

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