Moody Mother Nature: natural disasters in Canada
Prairies and forests, mountains and plains, rivers and streams, bitter cold and blazing heat – with such a diverse landscape and climate, it’s no wonder our country is prone to natural disasters. They can strike at any time – and they do, every year! When nature’s in a bad mood, here’s what can happen.
Forty-five percent of forest fires in Canada are set off by lightning, but Mother Nature is not solely responsible for these disasters! In fact, 55 percent of forest fires are caused by people. The regions most affected are British Columbia and the boreal forests of Ontario, Quebec, the Prairie Provinces, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Forest fires can be especially devastating, as last May’s Fort McMurray fire sadly demonstrated. It destroyed 2,400 buildings, razed almost 6,000 square kilometers of forest, and forced 80,000 residents to evacuate the area. Although they are devastating, forest fires are part of the forests’ natural lifecycle, playing a part in their renewal.
Floods and torrential rains
Known to cause more material damage than any other type of disaster in Canada, floods often occur in the Spring as a result of melting snow. Another main cause of flooding is torrential rains. When warm and humid air masses rise rapidly, they lead to storms with heavy rain that can cause flash floods. Torrential rains can also result from hurricanes that became extratropical cyclones that travel as far as eastern Canada. The 1997 Red River flood in Manitoba and the 2013 flood in southern and central Alberta wrought the worst damage in the country’s history.
Aside from heavy rain and strong winds, hurricanes create storm surges, a coastal flood or tsunami-like phenomenon of rising water. Hurricanes usually diminish in intensity as they move toward us, like the recent hurricane Matthew, but they can still prove troublesome, although less so than in the United States and the Caribbean. There are exceptions, however. Hurricane Hazel, which flooded the city of Toronto in 1954, mostly retained its strength as it travelled our way and hit the city full force. Up to 225 millimetres of rain fell on Toronto in less than 24 hours. Hazel destroyed more than 50 bridges, and many roads and railways. Sadly, many people also lost their lives.
You may be surprised to learn that Canada is outranked only by the United States as the country with the highest number of tornadoes. Tornadoes shouldn’t be confused with hurricanes; the two phenomena are very different. A tornado is produced by a violent storm and is accompanied by lightning, hail and torrential rain. Tornadoes make a rumbling or whistling sound and occur most often during the summer in southern Alberta, in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, in southern Ontario and Quebec, in the interior of British Columbia, and in western New Brunswick. They can move at speeds over 100 kilometers per hour and the winds can be strong enough to rip a home off its foundations.
In 1775 the Tseax Cone, also called the Aiyansh volcano, erupted in British Columbia. The poisonous gases released by the volcano are said to have caused thousands of deaths and the lava flows dammed a nearby river. This was not the only volcanic eruption to have occurred in Canada: there have been at least 49 in the last 10,000 years.
Most volcanoes are located in western Canada, with the most active of these in the Yukon and British Columbia, which are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire known for its active volcanoes and susceptibility to earthquakes.
The West Coast and the Saint-Lawrence Valley are the Canadian regions most vulnerable to earthquakes, and each year approximately 50 seismic events of some significance are felt. So far, earthquakes have not caused any deaths in Canada. However, the 1944 earthquake in Cornwall, Ontario, the 1946 earthquake on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and the 1988 earthquake in Saguenay, Quebec, caused millions of dollars of damage.
Avalanches and landslides
There are several types of avalanches and landslides in Canada – rock avalanches, snow avalanches, rockslides and subsidence, among others.
Most of our avalanches take place in the mountains of British Columbia, the Yukon and Alberta. They occur when a mass of snow or rock breaks loose and slides down a steep slope. In 1959, a major rock avalanche in B.C. reached a speed of 360 km/hour.
These events can be devastating, causing numerous deaths and millions of dollars of damage.
Although most ice storms do minimal damage, there are exceptions to the rule, such as the ice storm that struck the Saint-Lawrence Valley in 1998, which caused death, destruction and widespread prolonged power outages. During the storm, 2.6 million people reportedly could not make it to work – that is 19 percent of the Canadian workforce!
All that and we haven’t even talked about snow and hail! To learn more about winter in Canada, we recommend reading our article on the subject! We also provide some information on the topic of hail in Alberta and the 2016 summer storm in Saguenay!
Stay abreast of major storm activity and other weather events in your area. And above all enjoy the splendour of Mother Nature in her good moods!