Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The 60th Anniversary of Hurricane Hazel in Toronto

It is another chilly, raw morning in Montreal and the St. Lawrence Valley. The current temperature is 7C (45F) but with a gusty northeast wind over 40km/h it feels much colder. A developing Nor'Easter, yes it is that time of year again, will push Atlantic moisture into southern Quebec on Thursday. It will be a very windy, rainy and raw day with the high around 8C (47F). No sunshine is expected before Sunday.

This past October 18 was the 60th anniversary of the arrival of Hurricane Hazel in southern Ontario. Hazel developed in what was already a very busy hurricane season that summer/fall of 1954. 1954 was the first season that forecasters at the National Hurricane Center were using names to identify storms. The "H" storm formed in the open waters of the eastern Atlantic 50 miles east of Grenada on October 5 and began a two week journey into the Carolinas and eventually Ontario. The storm made landfall as a powerful category 4 hurricane along the North and South Carolina border with a devastating storm surge and 150mph winds. Hazel would kill 92 in the US as well as over 1000 in Haiti. But it was the unexpected ferocity with which she arrived in southern Ontario around midnight on October 18 that captured Canadians' attention from coast to coast. October 1954 was very wet in and around the GTA, and as they say in meteorology, timing is everything. And so it was with Hazel. Within 12 hours, the storm morphed from a tropical system to a rather intense post-tropical cyclone. Hazel arrived on already soaked ground with a deep intensifying atmospheric trough colliding with the storm. The result was torrents of rain along and around the Humber and Don River watersheds. The Highland Creek, Credit River, Humber, Don, Etobicoke and 16 mile creek would all overflow their banks by midnight on October 18. The forecast for Hazel put an emphasis on the wind, when in reality most of the strong gusts occurred across eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Instead heavy rain fell on the western GTA with 183mm at Toronto City, 127mm at Islington, 107mm in 12 hours at Malton (now Pearson Airport). An incredible 214mm fell in Snelgrove and Brampton including 90mm from 9pm to midnight on October 17, 1954. The result was absolutely catastrophic with a torrent of water racing down the Don and Humber Rivers washing away everything in sight, houses, cars, people. The Humber River from Brampton down to Lake Ontario rose over 10 feet in hours and flowed at an astonishing 1416 cubic metres per second. Hard hit Raymore Drive along the Humber River was washed away with 31 lives lost and over 40% of the street destroyed.

Swift and deadly flash flooding took 31 lives on Raymore Drive alone during Hazel in 1954. (Toronto Star)
The tragedy changed both the way we look at tropical systems in Canada and more importantly for the GTA, the way rivers and stream are monitored and how closely we build residential areas to them. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was established shortly after Hazel to help monitor that. Additionally the Dominion Weather Office, (predecessor to Environment Canada) took criticism for how the forecast was handled. In reality Fred Turnball, Head of the Dominion Weather Office at Macton, had predicted that morning  the rain from Hazel could very likely be the heaviest on record for Toronto. He was right, his message was just not delivered properly to the public. Even at that, it might not have made any difference for those who were sleeping in the wee hours of October 18, 1954 when the water came rushing through with such speed and ferocity. In the end 81 people would die as a result of Hazel in Canada, including 5 firefighters from Etobicoke whose rig was washed away by the Humber River. Nearly 1900 were left homeless, and damages would exceed 125 million. You can read about the firefighters and other personal accounts at this link HAZEL.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cool & wet weather week ahead for Montreal

It most definitely feels like fall this morning as temperatures have dropped from highs in the upper teens on Saturday to 0C (32F) this morning, here on L'Ile Perrot. Despite it being cold, it is a dry morning and should remain that way for today. That however is the extent of the good news for this week. All I can say is that it will be a typical week for middle October. After a high of 10C (50F) today with partly cloudy skies, we can expect clouds to thicken tonight. Low pressure will move from the Ohio Valley to New York City and become nearly stationary. An easterly flow of moist Atlantic air will almost guarantee cloud cover along with periods of rain through Thursday. Temperatures will not fluctuate much from lows to highs, generally in the 8 to 11C (48-52F) range. Rainfall may be significant in some locations especially closer to the US border with forecast amounts between 25-75mm (1-3 inches) by the end of the week.
Heavy rain from Gonzalo in St. John's, Newfoundland on Sunday morning. (Canadian Press Photo)
Post tropical storm Gonzalo is on the way to the United Kingdom this morning, moving rapidly across the north Atlantic, as a strong ocean storm. The once category 4 hurricane brushed by the southeast coast of Newfoundland in the wee hours of Sunday morning. A short period of very heavy rain dumped between 50-75mm (1-3 inches) on the eastern portion of the province with 69.1mm at Mount Pearl and 51.6mm  at St John's. Winds were very strong, especially offshore with a gust to 158km/h reported on a Hibernia Rig (Ocean VEP 717) on the Laurentian Fan. That wind elevated seas to over 10 metres (30 feet) offshore with some large waves crashing against the coast. A top wind speed of 74km/h was observed at St John's Airport with 100km/h at Cape Race. Minor flooding was reported but not much in the way of damage. The storm was over in just a few hours.

A spectacular shot of Cape Race after Gonzalo on Sunday morning. (Twitter @StormhunterTWN)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hurricane Gonzalo heads for Newfoundland

An incredible radar image from the Bermuda Weather Office of the eye of Gonzalo swallowing the tiny island of Bermuda last evening.
The big weather story this morning will be the arrival of Hurricane Gonzalo very close to the southeast coast of Newfoundland by early Sunday. A tropical storm watch is now in effect for the coastal regions of southeast Newfoundland. Gonzalo this morning is about 1450km south, southwest of Cape Race, Newfoundland moving north, northeast at 22km/h. The storm has winds of 100mph with a central pressure of 958mb according to the National Hurricane Center. Environment Canada has Gonzalo passing within a radius of 150km of the coast early Sunday morning. The storm will be transitioning into a post tropical storm at the time but still capable of 10 metre (30 foot) seas along the coast and winds up to 100km/h (60mph). Rainfall will be intense but fairly limited due to the rapid speed of the storm. Still, heavy rain bands could produce up to 25mm (1 inch) per hour for a few hours along the Avalon. In the shipping lanes of the Laurentian Fan into the southern Grand Banks the storm will have an intense impact. Hurricane force winds will whip seas as high as 16 to 18 metres (50-60 feet) according to the Canadian Hurricane Centre.

Crews respond to the thousands without power on Bermuda after Hurricane Gonzalo made a direct hit. (The Royal Gazette)
Meanwhile crews are out removing thousands of downed trees and restoring power to over 32,000 homes on Bermuda. Gonzalo made a direct hit on the tiny island nation of 64,900 in the vast Atlantic Ocean last evening with winds in excess of 100mph. Flooding and a coastal storm surge was also reported. Roads are blocked across the island. Structural damage to several buildings including a hospital was reported. No reports yet of casualties from Gonzalo.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hurricane Gonzalo heads for Bermuda - flooding in GTA

Bermuda weather radar showing the eye of Gonzalo nearing the tiny island (plus sign) this afternoon.
 There is plenty to talk about this morning, so I am putting the Hurricane Hazel column off for a few hours. Lets start in Ontario and Quebec where very warm and moist air produced lots of heavy rain on Thursday. The rain along with tons of falling leaves clogged sewers across Toronto producing lots of flooding. The flooding disrupted the evening commute in what is becoming an all too familiar occurrence. Underpasses were flooded with motorists stranded. In addition several subway stations took on water as well. Pearson Airport recorded only 5.2mm on Thursday but other locations in the GTA had between 50 and 100mm (2-4 inches) of rain in just a few hours. It was the same in southern Quebec with Trudeau Airport recording 8mm of rain, but I managed 15mm here on L'Ile Perrot and amounts ranged over 25mm (1 inch) in other parts of the region as thunderstorms occurred.

Flooding from heavy rain in portions of the GTA late Thursday. (Toronto Star)
Showers will continue today and into the weekend in Montreal as it turn sharply colder. Temperatures were in the low 20's again on Thursday but will drop to the teens today (17C) and single digits by Sunday when the high will only be 8C (47F).

The latest National Hurricane Center forecast has Gonzalo coming very close to eastern Newfoundland early Sunday.
Gonzalo remains a major hurricane this morning with winds up to 130mph and a pressure of 946mb. The storm is located 240 miles (385km) south southwest of Bermuda while moving north northeast at 15mph. On this present course the hurricane will arrive very close to Bermuda late today. Winds at 7:30 were already over 60km/h (38mph) on the island. Heavy rain, in excess of 150mm (6 inches) along with dangerous winds and a powerful storm surge will arrive shortly. Once the storm moves past Bermuda it will begin to slowly weaken and transition into a powerful post-tropical storm. Winds and rain will begin to affect Atlantic Canada coastal waters by Saturday afternoon. It is still early to pinpoint the exact impact on Newfoundland, but heavy rain is likely along the southeast coast along with heavy surf. High surf is also forecast for Nova Scotia. Strong winds may impact the Avalon Peninsula if Gonzalo makes landfall in Newfoundland. The current NHC track has the storm remaining offshore.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Windy, warm & wet

It feels more like a mid July morning in southern Quebec than October with temperatures in the high teens and high humidity. Tuesday was a record warm day in Montreal with a high temperature at Trudeau Airport of 24.8C (77F), beating the old record of 22.8C set in 1970. We were part of a bunch of record high temperatures including 28C (84F) at Massena/Cornwall and 26C (79F) at Burlington, Vermont. Burlington also posted another record on Wednesday when the temperature hit 27C (80F), this beat the old record that dated back to the 1930's. Montreal was a very warm 24C (76F) on Wednesday, short of the record of 26C. The warm and humid air is being pushed north by a combination of the slowest moving cold front ever and the broad circulation around high pressure in the Atlantic Ocean and Hurricane Gonzala. An area of very heavy rain is associated with the slow moving frontal system to our west, and that rain will arrive in Montreal today. Look for periods of rain with some thunder lasting into Friday with perhaps as much as 25mm (1 inch) for the St. Lawrence Valley.  Temperatures will continue warm with highs near 22C. The normal high for this date is 12C (54F) with the low around 3C (39F), so it is exceptionally warm, especially the overnight lows which have been warmer than the normal highs! We are on borrowed time, it will turn windy and colder this weekend as a strong cold front crosses Quebec and Ontario on Saturday. Temperatures will return to normal values by Sunday, even below average with showers and perhaps some flurries over the highest elevations. Highs will only be near 10C (50F) with lows near 0C (32F) by Monday morning.

NOAA image showing a well defined and powerful Hurricane Gonzala (middle right) over the Atlantic Ocean.

Gonzala this morning is a major storm located 540 miles (865km) southwest of Bermuda. The hurricane has 140 mph winds and a central pressure of 945 mb, a Category 4 storm, and one of the strongest Atlantic Basin hurricanes on record for October. Gonzala is moving north at 9 mph, and will come very close to Bermuda on Friday with a large storm surge, up to 150mm (6 inches) of rain and fierce winds. Warnings are in effect, and precautions are being rushed today to protect life and property. Beyond Bermuda it looks like the storm will transition into a strong post tropical storm and affect eastern Nova Scotia and Newfoundland this weekend. Very heavy rain and strong winds are possible, but the forecast details need to be fine tuned. The storm will begin to affect Atlantic Canada by Saturday.

Tomorrow: The 60th Anniversary of Hurricane Hazel was October 15, 2014. I will take a look back at one of the strongest storms to affect Canada tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Near record warmth today for Montreal & southern Quebec

After a very cold start to Thanksgiving Monday with widespread frost across southern Quebec and lows near 1C (34F), we warmed rapidly to 18C (65F). It was a perfect day for cleaning up the leaves and sadly cutting down the shrubs and flowers as we prepare for the upcoming snow and cold. I also managed to put the patio furniture away after enjoying it one last time.

The warmth came as a result of strong high pressure moving into the Atlantic and low pressure forming in the Mississippi Valley. The result has been a strong push of warm and increasingly humid air from the southern US. The flow will strengthen today with a forecast high of 24C in Montreal. If it occurs it will break the previous record high for the date, 22.8C (73F), established in 1971. It should be a dry day with partial sunshine this afternoon. The aforementioned low pressure area will lift north across the Great Lakes and eventually sweep a cold front into the St. Lawrence Valley by Thursday. Until then it will remain very warm for mid-October with highs in the 20's and lows in the teens. By Thursday expect a period of moderate rain with perhaps 25-50mm (1-2 inches) area wide into Friday morning. Temperatures will begin lowering through the teens to around 10C (50F) for a high by Sunday as we settle back into reality.

The path of Hurricane Gonzala as forecast by the National Hurricane Center.

The weather system bringing us this late season warmth is also responsible for a late season severe weather outbreak. Thunderstorms across the southern US on Monday produced nearly a dozen tornadoes and killed two in Arkansas. The storms stretched from Texas into Alabama and will spread eat today from Virginia to Florida. There may even be some thunder in northern New York and southern Quebec by Thursday, but no severe weather is forecast.

The tropics have also become active as we have a strong Hurricane Gonzala north of Puerto Rico this morning. Gonzala is a strengthening storm with winds of 110mph and is expected to become a major hurricane today while moving away from the islands at 13mph. The eye of Gonzala is about 90 miles (145km) north northeast of St Thomas with a lowering central pressure at 974mb and deepening. The storm lashed the Virgin Islands on Monday with heavy rain and strong winds as well as Puerto Rico. Winds gusted to 88mph on the island of Antigua with downed trees and roofs off many homes. The next target for the hurricane will be Bermuda followed by a gradual weakening as it approaches Atlantic Canada by next weekend.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Windy & cool fall day for Montreal


It is a much cooler morning here on L'Ile Perrot today with a gusty northwest wind and a current temperature of 6C (43F). Montreal had a very wet Wednesday with heavy rain in the morning followed by some clearing. The afternoon featured blustery winds over 50km/h and more periodic heavy showers with even some thunder. I recorded one of those showers here on L'Ile Perrot (video above) at around 2:30pm Wednesday. Winds were very strong with this particular batch of storms, in excess of 70km/h at times. Total rainfall amounts in Montreal ranged from 20 to 25mm yesterday (up to 1 inch) with two day totals close to 32mm here at my home.

Today will be a typical southern Quebec fall day with a mix of sun and clouds and the chance of an afternoon shower. It will be very cool, 11C (52F) and windy. Tonight, expect partly cloudy skies and cold lows down to 5C (41F).