Record wildfires producing record plumes of smoke. David Phillips, Senior Climatologist with Environment Canada, says those were the two biggest weather stories in our country in 2023.
In fact, Phillips says in 28 years of producing his annual list of Top 10 weather stories, he has never had a more obvious #1 and #2 story.
Number one on that list is The Year for Record Wildfires. Phillips says fires in Canada this year burned five per cent of precious boreal forest. He adds many provinces set new records for the size of these infernos.
"They would just start, and they would just explode overnight into massive fires," he recalls.
Phillips says if you took all the fires that burned over the last five years in the United States, it would not equal to what burned in Canada in 2023. He notes what added to this, is that these fires were all burning at the same time, which made them difficult to fight.
"We had 12,000 forest firefighters from 12 countries around the world, the Canadian military and we still couldn't put them out," notes Phillips. "Some of them were still burning towards the end."
But Phillips says if there was one province that experienced a quieter year for fires, it was Manitoba. The area that burned in Manitoba in 2023 was about 70 per cent of a normal year. By comparison, he notes some places in Canada saw fires consume 50 times what is normal in a single year.
The number two story on his Top 10 list for 2023 is Canada Cloaked in Smoke. Phillips says even if Manitoba did not produce the smoke this summer, it certainly felt the effects.
"Very few people saw the flames this year, but millions and millions of people smelled the smoke," he says. "And felt and tasted the ashes falling from that smoke."
Phillips says Canada usually gets a bad reputation south of the border for its cold winter days and for being the home of the polar vortex. However, during the summer of 2023, plumes of acrid smoke from Canada made headlines in New York City and in many other parts of the United States. He adds more than 100 million Americans in 32 states and the District of Columbia faced restricted breathing under poor air quality owing to smoke from Eastern Canada in June and May and later in the summer and fall from western and territorial wildfires. Not only that, but Phillips says smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean and fouled the air over Greenland and Iceland and other parts of Europe.
The number three story on his list is Hottest Summer on Earth and in Canada. Phillips says the period from May through September ended up being the warmest five months ever recorded in Manitoba. He notes what made this even more interesting is that Manitoba experienced one of the coldest ends of winter in 2023. He refers to March and April as "absolutely brutal."
According to Phillips, this last March was the first March in 150 years that the city of Winnipeg did not have a single day where the temperature climbed above the freezing mark. However, that was followed by the warmest May and June on record.
"You went from slush to sweat," he recalls. "Spring lasted two days. You went from winter and all the winter gear you have to wear to muscle shirts and tank tops."
Rounding out the Top 10 list for weather stories in 2023 are:
4. Deadly Deluge in Nova Scotia
5. Canada Dry in the West and Wet in the East
6. Hurricane Lee...no Fiona But More Than a Windy Day
7. April Glaze Storm in Montreal-Ottawa - More Beast Than Beauty
8. Cold Spells in a Warm Year
9. Flooding Out: Quebec's Record Wet July
10. Canada Day Tornado in Alberta