By: Bill Henderson

In 1954, a category 4 hurricane that was expected to dissipate actually intensified —and with winds reaching 110km/hr, dumped twelve inches of rain in just 48 hours. On the dawn of the third day, 81 people were dead and 4000 families were homeless.

When Hurricane Hazel struck the GTA that October, my mother was a teenager living in Willowdale, just to the north of the washed-out Lawrence Avenue bridge and tragic Raymore Drive. Over 30 houses were carried into the Humber River accounting for 35 of Ontario’s 81 reported deaths.

I remember my parents and grandparents talking about “Hazel” many times in my youth. They were shocked that a hurricane could reach their city so far inland and away from the tropics. To my forebears, Hurricane Hazel is one of those pivotal moments when our perception of the possible was forever reshaped.

As unthinkable as a hurricane in Toronto was to my parents and grandparents then, so are tornadoes to me now. When I was a kid, tornadoes only happened in Kansas! Alas, Ontario is the meeting place of two air masses: the dry air from the prairies and northwest and the hot humid air from the American south and southwest. As summer progresses, severe thunderstorms erupt along the leading edges or fronts of these colliding masses.

Any time that warm, moist air near the ground rises to meet the colder air above, the greater the chances of quickly-forming, fast-moving thunderstorms. Such was the case on July 14, 1997 in the mid-afternoon when Environment Canada’s radar indicated no rain at all. Twenty minutes later, a severe thunderstorm formed near Punkeydoodles Corners, between Kitchener and Stratford. In the span of a few short hours, 20cm of rain fell and winds were clocked at 115km/hr, uprooting trees and downing power lines.

If the right conditions exist, such as a deep low pressure area and a strong cold front, a line of thunderstorms will be created. Such was the case on May 31, 1985 when 11 tornadoes hopped across Southern Ontario, killing 12 people and causing more that $150 million in property damage.

Where previous generations had to deal with one or two “freak” weather incidents in their lifetime, we now have floods almost every Spring in every part of the country. From Bracebridge to Calgary, Toronto Island, Montreal, New Brunswick; there is no part of the country left untouched by rising water levels.

The grasslands of Biggar, Saskatchewan are burning in April due to the lack of snow melt on the Prairies. Fort McMurray burned in an unstoppable firestorm. Cottagers in Labrador are in a panic because of a large number of hungry polar bears trapped on land looking for an easy meal.

There can be no doubt that we have a new, dynamic and rapidly-changing climate reality. We need to be aware of our local climate and of escape routes like never before because the people we care about depend on it.

The question is: Are You Ready? Emergency Preparedness Week (May 5-11, 2019)


Emergency Preparedness Week 2019 this May 5-11 2019

On May 31, 1985, 11 tornadoes hopped across Southern Ontario, killing 12 people and causing more that $150 million in property damage.