Though not typical of the month of April, this weekend’s thunderstorm could be a snippet of what is to come in the summer months, says Canada’s foremost weather guru.
“Typically in April you get these little teasers, I often call them weather trailers – sort of like an advertisement of what we’re going to see,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, in an interview.
“And what we saw Saturday and what we saw [Monday] is what we’re thinking that this summer’s going to be about – May, June, July we’re calling for warmer than normal, and so we may very well see those kind of days more than normal, and of course, coming with those comes violent weather.”
After higher than normal temperatures on Apr. 24, Saturday saw a brief but powerful storm erupt in the late afternoon. Strong winds wreaked a significant amount of damage throughout the townships, leaving many people without electricity, before heading east towards Toronto and eventually Ottawa.
“We’ve had many significant storms in our service area; I would suggest that this one rated up amongst the more severe – it struck very suddenly and did a significant amount of damage and caused a significant amount of inconvenience to our customers,” said John Janzen, spokesperson for Waterloo North Hydro.
In Woolwich, a hydro pole at Arthur Street and Listowel Road was damaged by wind, and a falling tree knocked out two distribution stations on Northfield Drive near Line 86. Some residents were left without power until Sunday afternoon as Hydro worked to repair damaged hydro stations.
“We assigned as many crews as we could to the job – essentially all hands available were working on it at least Saturday afternoon and for a good portion of Sunday as well. It was definitely a significant storm,” said Janzen, noting that a report summarizing the problem areas and assessing the cost of damage caused by the storm should be ready by the end of the week.
While tornado reports were only confirmed in Windsor and in Ottawa, other parts of the province, including the Kitchener-Waterloo area, saw strong gusts of wind and crackling electrical activity. Some parts of the region saw 100 km/h winds. The storm then progressed on to Toronto, where wind speeds of 115 km/h – the strongest in 30 years – were recorded.
“You could see that almost in two-and-a-half hours it went from Toronto to Ottawa – if it was moving on the 401 it would have gotten a speeding ticket,” said Phillips. “It was moving at quite a clip.”
Saturday’s storm was the result of “a classic warm front/cold front situation,” he explained. Temperatures the previous day climbed well into the 20s, and stayed well above seasonal averages on Saturday. In the afternoon the temperature in the region dropped radically from 27 to 15 degrees within two hours.
“When you get that kind of temperature contrast of 30 degrees from the northern part of the province to the southern part of the province then there’s a lot of energy in that system.
“Whenever you get warm air meeting cold air is when you get weather wars – and certainly what we saw on Saturday was a very belligerent kind of air mass and system – very chaotic, very turbulent – lots of instability and some wild weather to go with it.”
Though temperatures in the mid-twenties (about 15 degrees higher than the seasonal average) and summer-like storms aren’t typical of the area during the month of April, varied weather is not uncommon.
“From a weather point of view there’s probably more variation in April than you’d find at any time of the year,” said Phillips, noting the early part of the month saw snow and the tail-end saw tornadoes.
“I suppose that’s what spring is. Spring doesn’t really have its own character. But if it’s a cool spring there’s more winter-like weather; if it’s a hot spring, it’s more like summer weather, so what we saw then was a classic kind of a ‘duking-it-out.’”