Ottawa River reached peak level in 2019 — Canada’s #1 weather event of the year

·5 min read
Ottawa River reached peak level in 2019 — Canada’s #1 weather event of the year
Ottawa River reached peak level in 2019 — Canada’s #1 weather event of the year

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


At the end of every year, Environment Canada (EC) releases the nation's Top Ten Weather Stories. The list has been compiled since 1996. It features top weather stories that captivated Canadians from across the country.

David Phillips, a senior climatologist, selects the top stories based on the event's impact. In 2019, EC's top weather event was "another record-setting Ottawa River flood."

The Ottawa River flooded in 2017, and that was considered the flood of the century. In 2019, the river flooded again, even worse than the event from two years prior.

The event was so catastrophic because all the weather ingredients needed for extreme flooding aligned. From October to April, the temperatures were below normal — so the ground was frozen and couldn't absorb the moisture from melting snow.

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But most of the snow and ice didn't even start melting in mid-spring. In some forested areas, there was 50 per cent more snow than usual.

And then from the middle of April to the middle of May, the area received heavy rain. During this time, Ottawa received double its normal rain accumulation (150 mm).

The rain melted the snow and pushed the already bloated Ottawa River beyond its capacity. Water overtook riverside communities in Ontario and Quebec.

ottawa river flood
ottawa river flood

Ottawa River 2019. Courtesy of Mark Robinson

Homeowners and volunteers created makeshift walls, lined up sandbags, and pumped water from buildings. They did what they could, but hundreds of residents still needed to evacuate.

Between Ottawa and Gatineau, more than 6,000 homes were flooded or at imminent risk. Many roads and bridges were flooded and forced to close.

Ottawa's Mayor Jim Watson declared a State of Emergency on April 25 that lasted until June 12.

At least two people died from the flooding.

To learn more about the 2019 Ottawa River flooding, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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