Hailstorms, floods and ‘snowmageddon’ make Environment Canada’s top 10 weather stories of 2020


Environment Canada has released its top 10 weather stories of the year, and no part of Canada was spared.

From the record “snowmageddon” in St. John’s in January to an endless hot summer in eastern Ontario and Quebec to the smoke-filled skies over Vancouver, there was no shortage of stories that affected Canadians weather-wise in 2020.

It’s a far cry from the earliest days the list was put together, said Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist, David Phillips. 

“I remember one story in the first year was retail sales were pretty good because people actually went to the stores or they sold shovels or garden equipment because of favourable weather, and now, my God, it’s all pretty well misery, hardship and misfortune,” Phillips, who has been compiling the list for 25 years, said. “Now, there’s … never a shortage of extreme exceptional weather.”

Topping the list? A hailstorm that pummelled Calgary, with insurance costs that are estimated to be roughly $1.3 billion.

On June 13, hot and humid air hung over Alberta, triggering severe storms that just strengthened into the evening. At about 7 p.m. local time, temperatures dropped by roughly 5 C, as hail as large as golf balls and tennis balls in some parts dropped on the city.

Wind speeds of up to 70 km/h roared, and the hail broke windows and downed trees. There was widespread flooding as hail drifts of 10 cm piled up, making a June day look more like December. But the damage wasn’t limited to the city: Hundreds of thousands of barley and young canola crops suffered massive damage.

Dee Manning rests on a snow shovel in front of her parents’ house on June 14, the day after the hailstorm in Calgary. Winds reached speeds of up to 70 km/h, and the hail broke windows and downed trees. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

These sorts of weather stories aren’t new to Calgary, Phillips said.

“I can’t imagine doing the top 10 weather stories without mentioning Calgary,” he said. “There’s something about that city — the size of it, the economic aspect of it, the fact that it’s in an area where the weather changes can attack you from every direction … the fact that they’ve had the worst flooding in Canadian history and now they can add another weather superlative to their list.”

The second story of the year was a good news/bad news story: While fewer fires raged across British Columbia compared with 2019, it was the smoke from fires burning in California, Washington and Oregon that hung over the province.

A cyclist rides on the beach in Tofino, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island, as smoke from fires raging in the U.S. hangs over the city. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Phillips said the smoke was so thick in the atmosphere that it even brought temperatures down roughly six to 10 degrees in some places. Special air-quality statements were issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada as the thick smoke hung near the ground.

“There were five consecutive days where every hour in those five days had smoky hours in Victoria and Vancouver,” Phillips said. “It has a direct effect on four million British Columbians.”

Here is the complete list:

  1. Calgary’s billion-dollar hailer 
  2. B.C.’s September skies: All smoke, no fires
  3. The flood of a century in Fort McMurray, Alta.  
  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

Stories are about people

The list of about more than just the weather, Phillips said. It’s about people and how they’re affected.

“Why did I select those [stories]? Because they had impacts on people,” he said. “They’re dealing with pandemic at the same time they’re being bombarded by smashing hailstones or things like that. Really, the economic, social upheaval and the environmental disruption from these things go into my consideration.”

His list highlights how a snowstorm in St. John’s — “a city that knows snow” — brought people to their knees. 

A woman makes her way through the snow-covered streets in St. John’s on Jan. 17. States of emergency were declared in St. John’s and neighbouring communities, and some 20,000 people were left without power. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)


States of emergency were declared in St. John’s and neighbouring communities, some people had to dig their way out of their homes and some 20,000 people were left without power.

Another story that illustrates how severe weather can affect people was the year’s most powerful tornado that occurred in southwestern Manitoba on Aug. 7. Two teenagers were killed when their pickup truck was lifted and tossed a kilometre away.

Phillips said that as the climate continues to change, there will certainly be more of these events that affect our daily lives.

“When you’re seeing that you’re getting not any new weather, it’s just that it’s more frequent, it’s more intense, it’s longer lasting and has a different return period,” he said. “It’s slowing down. Those are the things that really are what climate change is all about.”

You can read a comprehensive list that includes regional stories here.



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