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From floods to fires to weird Arctic weather, Environment Canada releases top 10 weather stories of 2019 – CBC.ca

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As Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips often says: “There’s never a shortage of weather stories in Canada.”

Once again, from coast to coast to coast, 2019 proved to be another record weather year for Canada.

Here are the top 10 weather events for Canada in 2019, compiled by Phillips.

1. Another record-setting Ottawa River flood

In the No. 1 spot is the spring flooding of the Ottawa River.

It was a perfect set-up along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers: Temperatures were below normal for seven straight months — from October 2018 to April 2019 — meaning the ground never experienced the gradual thaw that often comes with spring, nor could it absorb any falling rain. Upstream, the heavy snowpack was unable to thaw, and the region experienced several rounds of heavy rains over five weeks. 

Pointe-Gatineau, Que., near the meeting point of the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers, on April 29, 2019. (Albert Leung/CBC)

On May 1, the Ottawa River swelled, breaking the previous record in 2017. More than 6,000 residents were flooded out of their homes in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., and hundreds more from Pembroke, Ont. to Sherbrooke, Que. not to mention the flooding of precious farmland. As a result, two people died. 

2. Active hurricane season as predicted

The 2019 hurricane season was a particularly active one, just as the Canadian Hurricane Centre and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration had both forecast

Post-tropical storm Erin was the first to reach Canadian shores, on Aug. 29. It triggered flash flooding, though it was a bit of a blessing to farmers who had endured a dry summer until then.

A crane on South Park St. in Halifax toppled onto a building under construction after Hurricane Dorian made landfall in Nova Scotia. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

But it was Dorian that will be most remembered. The powerful Category 5 hurricane produced winds of 300 km/h over the Bahamas and lingered, almost at a standstill, for 24 hours. Eventually, it made its way to Nova Scotia, transitioning to a post-tropical storm with winds of 155 km/h. It knocked out power to nearly half a million people across Atlantic Canada. The Insurance Board of Canada estimated that Dorian caused $140 million to insured property, with most of it in Nova Scotia.

3. (S)no-good Prairie fall

The West is no stranger to early snowfalls, but 2019 turned out to be a dinger. At the end of September, Calgary experienced a harsh, early, snowy surprise. Over four days, 32 cm fell in the city, the greatest depth of snow left on the ground in 65 years.

City crews in Winnipeg tackle a downed tree following a spring snowstorm. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Southern B.C. wasn’t left out of the snowy mess; 35 to 50 cm of snow was dumped across many mountain passes. And a few weeks later, it was Manitoba’s turn. From Brandon to Winnipeg, snow blanketed the area. States of emergency were declared in 11 communities and more than 6,000 people were evacuated from First Nations communities.  

4. A brutal FFFFebruary in Canada

February is often thought of as the harshest month of winter, and 2019 certainly lived up to that expectation.

Though the planet was experiencing an El Niño event — a warming in a region of the Pacific that typically brings milder weather to parts of Canada — the Arctic air took an icy grip on the country and wouldn’t let go.

A person walks a dog as heavy snow falls in Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In B.C., along the coast, reaching into the Interior, it was 9 C below normal. In Calgary, February was the coldest month in 83 years. And southern Alberta could just forget about the Chinook: in 2019 it was 14 C colder than normal in the region.

Meanwhile, Toronto received a year’s worth of snow in January and February alone. And Atlantic Canada? The region experienced its coldest February in 25 years.

5. Record heat continues in Arctic

Unfortunately, nothing changed in the Arctic. 

Once again, 2019 proved to be another record warm year. In September, the Arctic sea ice reached its yearly minimum at 4.15 million square km, the second-lowest on record, tied with 2007 and 2016.

The community of Apex is seen from Iqaluit on Friday, Aug. 2. Once again, the Arctic continued to warm during 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“The North is the most important story,” Phillips said. “It will be the most important story of the century.”

And it wasn’t just the climate — it was the weather itself, he said.

On June 2, an EF-1 tornado was spotted near Fort Smith, N.W.T., just the fourth confirmed north of 60 degrees latitude in Canada. In mid-July the Canadian Forces Station in Alert, Nunavut, recorded a searing temperature of 21 C — 14 C warmer than average. And on Aug. 10,  there were several lightning strikes within 500 km of the North Pole, a true rarity indeed.

6. Too dry early, too wet later on the Prairies

While weather may just be an inconvenience to most people, for farmers it can mean the difference between putting food on the table or not.

And in the Prairies, farmers had to deal with some truly inconsistent weather in 2019.

Even before the growing season began, farmers struggled with some of the driest conditions since record-keeping began 133 years ago. Edmonton had its driest spring on record, Regina had its driest March and Winnipeg its driest first half of the year with a measly 91 mm of precipitation (its average is 235 mm from January to June).

But once the rains started, they didn’t stop.

Weather played havoc with farmers in the Prairies during the spring 2019, with many losing crops. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Edmonton recorded 55 days of rain through June to August, tying for the most number of days since 1881. And it wasn’t just the rain: Alberta and Saskatchewan had an early, mid-September snowfall with more of the same — including rain — in October. As a result, many farmers lost large amounts of their crops.

7. How the Grinch stole…Halloween?

Sadly, instead of a treat, many children this Halloween received a nasty trick.

Unfortunately, for kids in the East, it was donning a snowsuit, carrying an umbrella or, well, no Halloween at all.

It was wet and windy in southern Ontario: the town of Stratford received the most with 109 mm of rain. In Port Colborne, winds topped 129 km/h. 

Halloween played a wet and windy trick on many children in Canada’s east in 2019. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Meanwhile, in Chibougamau, Que., 30 cm of snow fell. And there was snow and rain across Newfoundland. 

But it was a delayed Halloween for 20 municipalities across Quebec, including Montreal, as the festivities were postponed by a day.

8. Spring missing in the East

Spring means longer days, the sight of green grass, budding trees and warmer weather. But that just wasn’t the case in much of Canada in 2019. And once again, it was the dreaded Polar Vortex who squelched our fun.

Across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin, it was the coldest spring in 22 years. By the end of May, less than five per cent of Ontario farmers’ crops had been planted. 

Terry Ferguson, right, gets help from friend Peter McMaster to stack sandbags around his Bay Street home in an attempt to keep out the flood waters of the St. John River in Saint John, N.B., on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Stephen MacGillivray/Canadian Press)

In April, the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia had endured almost triple the month’s rainfall with some of the coldest soil temperatures in two decades.

In New Brunswick, Moncton’s average May temperature was almost three degrees colder than average. And once again, farmers felt the crunch across the region.

9. Saint John River floods again

Persistent rain and snow and a lack of thaw was behind the flooding of New Brunswick’s Saint John River once again.

At the New Brunswick-Maine border, the river had its largest stream flow in 67 years. In Fredericton, the river reached its peak at 8.37 metres, breaking 2018’s record, and coming in second highest after 1973.

Spring flowers had a tough job ahead of them as cold weather descended across the east, stretching into Atlantic Canada. (CBC)

It was particularly difficult for residents as they desperately tried to protect their property. Canada’s military was eventually called in to assist after 1,500 people were evacuated. Ultimately, 16,000 homes and buildings were damaged by floodwaters with 145 roads were shut down. 

And while the province is no stranger to floods, Phillips points out that the last two floods — both the 2018 and 2019 ones — were considered to be once-in-a-hundred-year floods. However, the past year saw less of an impact than the year previous.

“There are lessons to be learned from some of these [stories], too, that we realize that the 100-year storm is becoming the 10-year storm,” Phillips said. “So we need to do things differently. We just can’t sit there and [say] ‘Oh,well Mother Nature is going to get us.’ We need to do something about it.”

10. Fewer fires, more burning

After an intense fire season in 2018, it was a fairly quiet fire season in 2019, with fires down 40 per cent across the country.

Roughly 422,000 lightning strikes were recorded in B.C. — which experienced its worst season in history in 2018 — far surpassing the average of 266,000. But the good thing is, it was accompanied by wet weather. 

Though there were fewer fires than in 2018, the 2019 season was still a memorable one for Alberta and Ontario. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But it was Alberta that broke from the trend, where fires consumed an area roughly 14 times that of the average. It was the second-worst season on record. By the end of May, 10,000 people had been evacuated from their homes.

Ontario also experienced severe forest fires. In northwestern Ontario, forest fires caused poor air quality in several First Nation communities for almost two weeks, resulting in 2,500 residents being evacuated. 

In the end

Phillips said there’s a message to be taken away from these weather events.

“There’s no region that I would say had the worst weather,” said Phillips. “It’s not new weather, though … it’s the same old weather that our grandparents talked about, but it’s just that the statistics are different: the frequency, the intensity, the out of season, out of place, anything like that that just seems to make it different than it was.”

And he reminds Canadians: “Mother Nature holds all the trump cards.”

Here is Phillips’ complete list of Top 10 Weather Stories of 2019 including a breakdown for regions across the country. 

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Canadian health officials look to China for lessons in how to prepare for COVID-19 – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Public health officials are urgently warning that COVID-19 could gain ground in North America, while the Canadian doctor who led a team in China to study the virus says the world “is simply not ready” for a potential pandemic.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested Tuesday the virus will likely spread far and wide.

“Current global circumstances suggest it’s likely that this virus will cause a pandemic,” she said.

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, says officials are ready to take strong measures to guard against outbreaks, which “could perhaps include some closures of mass gatherings, for example, where there is higher likelihood of spread.”

Some Canadian hospitals are already preparing for a potential outbreak, including Ontario’s Scarborough Health Network, which has 18 beds dedicated for any patients infected with COVID-19.

“We have all of the hands on deck to provide the services for patients if we get a big influx,” Dr. Dick Zoutman, Chief of Staff at Scarborough Health Network, told CTV News.

Nearly four per cent of medical workers in China have become infected, so enhanced protection for staff is critical, said Dr. Neil Rau, a medical microbiologist at Halton Healthcare Services and CTV’s infectious diseases expert.

This includes bringing in extra gowns, masks and gloves.

“We have to have enough protective equipment for health care providers to protect them from getting the infection,” he said. “We have to protect our health care providers from getting the infection, so we don’t lose confidence in the health care staff and lose the ability to take care of patients who are sick.”

COVID-19 has also shown itself to be particularly harmful for those aged 80 and older, meaning extra precautions in seniors’ facilities are paramount.

“Nursing homes are a perfect set-up for a virus like this to take off,” Rau added.

In China, one strategy that has proved effective is the increase in telemedicine, where people who aren’t very sick stay home and received consultations online.

Dr. Vera Etches, the medical officer of health in Ottawa, suggests people stock up on prescriptions if infections start to spread.

“Even groceries that are non-perishable is good to have extra on hand if you can, so you don’t have to run out to the grocery story if you are feeling ill,” she said.

On Tuesday, Dr. Bruce Aylward, an epidemiologist and an assistant director-general for the World Health Organization (WHO), spoke in Geneva about his recent visit to China as the lead of an independent team of experts who examined the COVID-19 outbreak, which has sickened more than 78,000 and killed more than 2,700 in the country’s mainland.

The group consisted of 13 international experts and 12 Chinese nationals who travelled to Beijing, Guangdong province, Sichuan province, and the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, to gauge the impact of Chinese measures to care for the infected and prevent further spread of the respiratory virus.

After visiting with hundreds of health-care workers, government officials, volunteers, and residents across the country for a week, Aylward said his team determined that China had successfully managed to decrease the number of new cases with their “robust” approach.

“It’s the unanimous assessment of the team that they have changed the course of this outbreak,” he told a press conference in Geneva. “Hundreds of thousands of people in China did not get COVID-19 because of this aggressive response.”

According to Aylward, China’s response to the pathogen includes case finding, tracing contact, social distancing, and movement restriction. He said the country has successfully reacted to the outbreak by taking a differentiated and tailored approach to various regions so as to not exhaust their resources.

The epidemiologist said one of the things he was most struck by during his visit was the country’s mobilization of people. He described China’s collective action and co-operation in their response as “phenomenal.”

“We spoke to hundreds of people in hotels, on trains, in planes, who are quite outside the system, and they all shared this sense of responsibility, accountability to be part of this,” he recalled.

In Wuhan, in particular, Aylward said he witnessed the population band together to fight the outbreak.

“As you drive into this city in the dead of night with the lights on, it’s a ghost town, but behind every window in every skyscraper there are people co-operating with this response,” he said. “It’s staggering.”

Aylward also praised China’s ability to repurpose the “machinery of government,” such as transportation and other infrastructure, to respond to the health emergency. He said the country’s use of technology and science was also important in ensuring the response was timely and appropriate across all regions, including rural ones.

“What China demonstrates is, where this goes is within the control of our decisions to apply this kind of rigour and approach to this disease and its outbreak,” he said.

As China gets a handle on the spread of COVID-19 within its borders, the rest of the world is dealing with increasing numbers of cases popping up since the virus was identified eight weeks ago.

In South Korea, there have been nearly 1,000 confirmed cases of the virus while Japan grapples with approximately 860 cases, most of which originated on a cruise ship that made port there in the beginning of February.

Elsewhere, Iranian authorities have reported 15 deaths from the illness so far while Italy has become the site of the largest outbreak in Europe with nearly 300 cases.

In North America, the U.S. has confirmed 53 cases and Canada has reported 11, all in Ontario and B.C.

Aylward said at this point, the rest of the world is “simply not ready” for a COVID-19 outbreak within their own borders. He said countries should already be increasing their hospital bed capacity, stocking up on ventilators and oxygen supplies, developing a quarantine plan, and assessing their laboratory capabilities.

The WHO expert stressed that the rest of the world can and should learn from China’s experience in dealing with a virus outbreak.

“At this point, the world needs the experience of China,” he said. “Access the expertise in China. They’ve done this at scale, they know what they’re doing, they’re really, really good at it, and they’re keen to help.”

In conclusion, Aylward said his mission to China showed that it’s possible to affect the course of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“You can change the shape of this but it takes a very aggressive and tough program,” he said.

With files from CTV National News Medical Correspondent Avis Favaro and senior producer Elizabeth St. Philip

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Air Canada cancels flights to China until April as government braces for domestic coronavirus outbreak

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Air Canada is extending its suspension of flights between Canada and mainland China until April as the number of coronavirus cases — and the number of countries affected — continues to grow.

The country’s largest domestic and international airline announced Tuesday that service to Beijing and Shanghai will be cancelled until April 10. The company initially grounded flights for the month of February after the federal government issued an advisory warning against non-essential travel to China.

“Air Canada will continue to monitor this evolving situation closely in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Transport Canada and Global Affairs and will adjust its schedule as appropriate,” says a statement from the company.

Air Canada normally operates direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

The carrier also is extending the suspension of its daily Toronto-Hong Kong flights until April 30 due to reduced demand, and says it will accommodate customers already booked on those flights on its non-stop Vancouver-Hong Kong flights.

Asked in the House of Commons Tuesday if the government has done enough to screen potentially infected individuals entering the country, Health Minister Patty Hajdu insisted Canada has imposed “strict” measures. But she noted the coronavirus has now spread to at least 35 countries — including some that may not have the capacity to properly diagnose it.

“Those measures are less effective and it’s time to turn our attention and our resources to making sure we’re prepared on the domestic stage,” she said.

Hajdu said there are not many cases in Canada now, but that could change at any time.

Hajdu said the messaging at airports will broaden to advise all international travellers on what they should do if they experience symptoms. But she said passenger screening and containment efforts are now less relevant than domestic efforts to delay and mitigate an outbreak.

Hajdu said Canadians in Iran and other affected countries will receive consular support, but suggested that evacuating people is now unlikely.

“We should be clear that repatriation efforts are limited at this point. It’s difficult at this point to commit to an ongoing repatriation process. You have to remember that it takes a lot of resources and the resources have to be focused in terms of our domestic response,” she said. “It’s important for Canadians to realize this may cause disruptions in their lives.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Monday Canadian officials are preparing to respond to a possible pandemic in the event there is a community outbreak domestically. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the epidemic a global health emergency, but has not yet called it a pandemic.

Earlier today, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne urged Canadians planning international trips to keep a close eye on government travel advisories as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.

Nations around the world have been imposing strict travel restrictions in an attempt to contain the virus’s spread.

On his way into a cabinet meeting this morning in Ottawa, Champagne called the outbreak a “dynamic” situation and said Canadians with travel plans should take precautions.

“Make sure you check before you go. That’s the best advice I can give,” he said.

“We’ve seen new places where the coronavirus has expanded — in South Korea, we saw in Italy today not only the north of Italy but Sicily and Tuscany. We’ve seen what’s happening in Iran.”

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has heightened its travel advisory for South Korea, where nearly 1,000 cases have been reported. The department is now warning travellers to exercise a “high degree of caution” in travelling to the country due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

More than 320 cases have been reported in Italy. More than 80,000 cases have been reported globally.

GAC’s advisory for travel to Italy was updated Tuesday, warning travellers to “practise special precautions.”

“COVID-19 can spread from person to person, and in Italy cases have been confirmed in multiple regions in the north of the country. Sustained community spread of the virus is being reported. This means it is unknown how or where some people became infected, and the spread is ongoing,” the advisory reads.

 

A couple is seen on Tuesday on the subway in Milan. Italy is facing a growing number of coronavirus cases. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

 

The advisory says good medical care is widely available in Italy, but services could be limited in rural areas and doctors and nurses may not be able to communicate in English or French.

Medical treatment for life-threatening emergencies and emergency room treatment is free of charge in Italy, but hospitals charge up-front for any convalescence or follow-up care, the advisory reads.

Risk remains low in Canada

Tam issued a statement today saying that the risk posed by the coronavirus in Canada remains low.

She also confirmed that the 195 people who were under quarantine at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton after an evacuation flight from China have been released.

The group arrived two weeks ago on the second government-chartered flight from Wuhan, China, and have shown no symptoms throughout the quarantine period.

“As a result, they pose no risk to others and can return to their usual activities,” Tam said in the statement.

“I would like to thank the repatriated Canadians and their families for their patience, cooperation and contribution to public health. They have been through a stressful experience and I urge everyone to treat them with respect and compassion.”

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Canada’s agriculture sector near ‘tipping point’ over blockades, farming federation warns – Global News

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The Canadian Federation of Agriculture called for “decisive action” from the federal government Tuesday as it warned that rail blockades across the country were causing critical supply shortages for farmers and hurting their ability to get products to market.

Canadian farmers are being “severely and harshly impacted” by the blockades despite having nothing to do with the dispute over a B.C. pipeline project, federation president Mary Robinson said during a news conference attended by dozens of representatives from the agricultural industry.






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Railway blockades bringing Canada’s economy ‘to its knees’ says Scheer


Railway blockades bringing Canada’s economy ‘to its knees’ says Scheer

Robinson, whose organization represents around 200,000 farm families across the country, specifically cited shortages of propane for heating barns and feed for animals as among the top concerns, particularly for farmers in Eastern Canada.


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Producers are also having difficulty getting their products to market because of the rail disruptions, she said.

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“The widespread collateral damage of these protests is grinding our entire industry to a halt and is taking a massive toll on farmers across the country,” Robinson said, adding some estimates have pegged the cost to industry at around $63 million per week.

“Canadian agriculture is quickly reaching a tipping point.”






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Stress from railway blockades contributing to further mental health problems in agriculture sector: Canadian Federation of Agriculture president


Stress from railway blockades contributing to further mental health problems in agriculture sector: Canadian Federation of Agriculture president

The comments put more pressure on the federal government to end the rail blockades, which started earlier this month in opposition to the Coastal GasLink project in B.C. While police have removed some of the blockades in recent days, others have since popped up.

Canada is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and the fifth-largest agricultural exporter, according to the federal government. The industry employs 2.3 million Canadians and contributes around $110 billion to the country’s gross domestic product each year.

Insisting it was too early to talk about compensation or emergency assistance, Robinson instead said the government’s focus should be on ending the blockades before looking at longer-term ways to ensure Canada’s rail network is reliable and not subject to future uncertainty.


READ MORE:
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“We cannot continue to have our livelihoods held hostage every time a group wants to put pressure on government. These interruptions also greatly affect Canada’s ability to be a reliable and trusted trading partner.”

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1:16
Protesters continue to block railway tracks in Hamilton after being served injunction


Protesters continue to block railway tracks in Hamilton after being served injunction

Yet she also warned the blockades along with a year of bad weather, a week-long rail strike in November and ongoing trade disputes with China are causing long-term damage to the agricultural industry, particularly as trading partners turn elsewhere for their products.

“We certainly are a point where our nation should be concerned that our government show leadership and investment to ensure that our agriculture resources are properly shored up in these difficult times,” she said.






1:12
Bill Blair reiterates rail blockades are ‘unacceptable’, says legal recourse may be necessary


Bill Blair reiterates rail blockades are ‘unacceptable’, says legal recourse may be necessary

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau acknowledged the challenges Canadian farmers have faced over the past year, but stopped short of promising any specific assistance or actions to address their concerns.


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63% of Canadians support police intervention to end rail blockades: Ipsos poll

“These disruptions have unfairly hurt Canadians, hurt our farmers and the entire value chain of our agriculture industry,” Bibeau said in a statement.

“I care deeply about our farmers who have dealt with the stress and impacts of these rail disruptions, on top of the challenges they faced in 2019. It’s absolutely essential that barricades stay down and that rail service be resumed.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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