Record hail, deadly tornado & towering snow define Canada's 2020 weather

Nathan Howes
·9 min read
Record hail, deadly tornado & towering snow define Canada's 2020 weather
Record hail, deadly tornado & towering snow define Canada's 2020 weather
Record hail, deadly tornado & towering snow define Canada's 2020 weather

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On Jan. 17, a powerful blizzard moved through Newfoundland and brought wicked hurricane-force winds, damaging storm surge and record-breaking snowfall. An all-time daily snowfall record was reported in St. John's after 76.2 cm fell that day, beating the previous record of 68.4 cm back on April 5, 1999.

Newfoundland snow/UGC
Newfoundland snow/UGC

Photo: Cyrena Eddy.

With additional snow falling through the next couple of days, amounts in the city topped 90 cm. In fact, unofficially, St. John's International Airport had its snowiest January on record with a recorded 173 cm, well above its average of 89 cm that typically falls during the month. Other communities such as Mount Pearl and Paradise received more than 100 cm of snow with this storm.

The storm shut down much of the province, prompting states of emergency in many communities, and causing widespread travel issues and power outages. The blizzard even triggered an avalanche in The Battery area of St. John's on Friday evening, damaging one home, but no one was injured.

January 2020 Newfoundland snow/UGC
January 2020 Newfoundland snow/UGC

Photo: Glenn/Newfoundland.

The City of St. John's was under a state of emergency for eight days in the wake of the storm, forcing businesses to stay closed and keeping cars off the roads. All schools on the Avalon Peninsula were closed and many across the Bonavista Peninsula were closed, as well. On Jan. 19, the Canadian Armed Forces sent as much as 300 troops to Newfoundland to help.

Then in February, a miserable mix of heavy snow and wind forced more school closures across parts of Newfoundland on multiple occasions.

In total, St. John's picked up more than 335 cm of snow during the 2019-2020 winter, with the yearly normal being closer to 248 cm.


To reach its ambitious goal of locating every tornado that occurs in Canada, the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) teamed up with The Weather Network in 2020. This collaboration gives the NTP unprecedented access to a vast resource of severe weather content.

In 2017, the Northern Tornadoes Project was launched at Western University, using a unique new method of locating tornadoes in northern Ontario. Since then, the initiative has grown and the organizers formed partnerships, allowing them to expand their search across Canada.

Kyle Brittain: Tornado near Calgary, summer 2020
Kyle Brittain: Tornado near Calgary, summer 2020

Tornado near Calgary, Alta. Taken in summer 2020. Photo: Kyle Brittain.

The Weather Network and the Northern Tornadoes Project will combine reach and resources to track down tornado and damage reports across Canada. Part of this relationship gives the researchers access to the extensive database of user-generated content, submitted by our audience to The Weather Network's digital space.


A powerful, damaging hailstorm hit Calgary, Alta. June 13, shredding siding on homes, smashing car windows and destroying farmers' crops.

Racking up at least C$1.2 billion in insured damages, it was the costliest hailstorm in Canadian history and fourth-costliest natural disaster the country has ever seen, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

June13 Calgary hailstorm/Kyle Brittain
June13 Calgary hailstorm/Kyle Brittain

Photo: Kyle Brittain.

The storm hit northeast Calgary, Airdrie and Rocky View County hardest. It damaged at least 70,000 homes and vehicles and destroyed entire crops, as hailstones the size of tennis balls fell at speeds of 80-100 km/h.

"It is clear this is a devastating thing for many people," Mayor Naheed Nenshi told CBC News.

"Many people in Calgary have had their homes completely wrecked … a lot of people have had their livelihood taken away, and even those who were fully insured are still looking at huge deductibles, having to come up with thousands of dollars today for an expense that can't be delayed."

The provincial government announced financial support for residents who experienced overland flooding, as overland flooding insurance is often not available in flood-prone areas.


On Aug. 7, intense thunderstorms in a rural southern Manitoba area spawned a large EF-3 tornado, killing two people and injuring one other.

A man and a woman, both 18 and from Melita, were pronounced dead at the scene. Virden RCMP responded to the tornado report around 8:10 p.m. local time, in an area near Highway 83 and Road 50N in Pipestone, just south of Virden.

Manitoba tornado/Aug. 7, 2020
Manitoba tornado/Aug. 7, 2020

Tornado near Scarth, Man., Friday, Aug. 7. Photo: Sean Schofer and Prairie Storm Chasers.

Upon arrival, police found extensive damage at a farm and a vehicle that was thrown near the highway. A 54-year-old man inside that vehicle, from Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation, was taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Another vehicle, carrying the two people who died, was found more than a kilometre away from that site. The tornado also downed power lines and was on the ground for 10-15 minutes, according to witnesses. At one point, there were more than 500 Manitoba Hydro customers without power.

"Power lines and a farm were damaged, grain silos were tossed and trees were snapped," Environment Canada said in its summary, which was completed in collaboration with the Western University-based Northern Tornadoes Project.


In September, smoke from the historic wildfires along the U.S. West Coast pushed across every single Canadian province. While the provinces in Eastern Canada were enjoying beautiful sunsets, Western Canada was struggling through an unhealthy amount of smoke that was degrading surface air quality to hazardous levels.

UGC: US wildfires cause smoky skies in Patricia Bay, British Columbia. Courtesy: Frank Towler
UGC: US wildfires cause smoky skies in Patricia Bay, British Columbia. Courtesy: Frank Towler

U.S. wildfire causes smoky skies in Patricia Bay, B.C. Photo: Frank Towler.

Victoria, B.C. was one of Canada's smokiest locations during the third week of September since the calm marine layer was acting as the perfect conduit to hold the smoke in the lowest levels of the atmosphere.

Ed Wiebe, a climate scientist in Victoria, did some creative calculations to determine the amount of smoke hovering over the city. While looking at the levels of air pollution, he determined it's the equivalent of smoking more than 40 cigarettes in one week.


On Nov. 15, a line of strong storms rolled through southern Ontario and produced a tornado, a definite rarity in November.

The tornado occurred in the early afternoon, cutting a path through the northern Greater Toronto Area (GTA) community of Georgetown, with downed trees and some roof damage reported, though no injuries.

The Western University-based Northern Tornadoes Project confirmed the twister, rating it as an EF-1 with estimated winds of 135 km/h and a damage track of 3.7 km and a width of more than 300 metres.

Georgetown tornado November 15th Northern Tornado Project
Georgetown tornado November 15th Northern Tornado Project

Photo: Northern Tornadoes Project.

Tornadoes in mid-November are rare, but not impossible if the conditions are right. One EF-1 tornado in November 2013, north of Prescott, caused significant damage to a farm silo. In 2005, a tornado near Hamilton with winds up to 180 km/h tossed dumpsters, caused walls to buckle, damaged roofs and flipped over cars. It was later rated F1.

More than 40 tornadoes were reported this year in southern Ontario, far surpassing any other province.


Fuelled by a La Niña that developed in the summer months of 2020, the Atlantic hurricane season was the most active and the seventh costliest Atlantic hurricane season on record. In addition, it was the fifth consecutive above-average Atlantic hurricane season from 2016 onward.

NOAA/ 2020 Atlantic hurricanes
NOAA/ 2020 Atlantic hurricanes

Photo: NOAA.

On Nov. 10, Tropical Storm Theta came to life, and in the process, pushed 2020 into the top spot for the most named storms in a season. Then, on Nov. 15, Iota became a hurricane, making the duo of Eta and Iota the first time since records began that two major hurricanes formed in the Atlantic basin in November.

The season featured a total of 31 (sub)tropical cyclones, with all but one becoming a named storm. Of the 30 named storms, 13 developed into hurricanes, and six further intensified into major hurricanes. Only Hurricane Iota attained a Category 5 strength on the Saffir–Simpson scale.

It was the second season to dive into the Greek alphabet for naming storms, the first occurred in 2005.

NOAA/ by the numbers on 2020 Atlantic hurricane season
NOAA/ by the numbers on 2020 Atlantic hurricane season

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season by the numbers. Photo: NOAA.

Of the named storms, 12 made landfall in the contiguous United States, breaking the record of nine set in 1916. The season was also the fifth consecutive season that at least one Category 5 hurricane formed.

During the season, 27 tropical storms established a new record for the earliest formation by storm number. This season also featured a record 10 tropical cyclones that underwent a rapid intensification, tying it with 1995.


The first week of the 2020-21 winter season was a roller-coaster across the country. The first day kicked off with an intense wintry blast across B.C., sending wet snow to the lower elevations including in Metro Vancouver. Thousands lost power during the event.

Through mid-week, the same Pacifc low that dumped snow on B.C. also dropped a widespread 20-40+ cm of snow across the Prairies. Kananaskis Country, Alta. even saw a whopping 70 cm of snow. Calgary was also heavily impacted, recording 20-40 cm of snowfall, ensuring it saw a white Christmas.

Alberta snow/Kyle Brittain
Alberta snow/Kyle Brittain

Calgary was hit with 20-40 cm of snow just days before Christmas. Photo: Kyle Brittain.

As the low moved east, it buried northern Ontario with a heavy dose of snowfall through Christmas Eve, creating treacherous driving conditions.

The south wasn't spared from the wintry blast either, with snow squalls blasting the region into Christmas Day, with 20+ cm of snow forecast for parts of the region. The squalls continued to impact the traditional snow belt regions on Boxing Day, as well, bringing an additional 15-20 cm of snow for some areas.

burlington snow Dec 25, 2020 Credit: Matt Grinter
burlington snow Dec 25, 2020 Credit: Matt Grinter

Snowfall in Burlington, Ont. on Christmas Day. Photo: Matt Grinter.

Meanwhile, Quebec and Atlantic Canada enjoyed unusual Christmas warmth, even record-breaking in parts of the Maritimes. Fredericton had its warmest December day on record, clocking in at 17.4°C. That temperature was warmer than areas in Florida, with some locales only reaching 14°C.

On today's podcast, Chris Mei reviews the wild weather that stretched across Canada in 2020 and the aftermaths of each significant event.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

Thumbnail courtesy of Glenn/Newfoundland, January 2020.