Extreme cold to hit Canada following record hot year

Published Jan 9, 2024



The first “impactful” winter storm of the year is expected to hit the Canadian capital Ottawa late Tuesday, following a record year of heat, wildfires, and flooding.

Environment Canada, the country's weather agency, said heavy snow associated with a major winter storm is to arrive on Tuesday afternoon and continue into Wednesday.

Snow will likely change to ice pellets or freezing rain on Tuesday night. Several hours of freezing rain are possible, particularly in the Ottawa Valley. Some locations may see 10 to 20cm of snow, the agency said.

Previously, the agency issued a winter storm watch for some parts of Ontario and Quebec, suggesting that as thick as 4 cm of snow may blanket some areas of the provinces starting Tuesday.

Environment Canada also issued extreme cold warnings for parts of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan, with in some places temperatures expected to feel like a staggering minus 50C due to the wind chill.

The North American country had pulled through a heap of extreme weather events in 2023, the hottest year on record. The most destructive ones included the Kelowna wildfires in British Columbia, ice storms in Ontario and Quebec, the Tantallon wildfire in Nova Scotia, flooding in Nova Scotia, severe storms in Ontario and Quebec, and the Winnipeg hailstorm in Manitoba.

Global boiling is taking a toll on Canadian’s lives. Extreme heat could kill 1,370 people and send 6,000 to hospital each year in British Columbia by 2030 if the province doesn't adapt its essential infrastructure, according to a report by the Canadian Climate Institute published in June 2023.

It is also hitting the nerves of insurers. The unprecedented frequency of catastrophic events experienced across Canada in 2023 pushed the total insured loss for the country to 3.1 billion Canadian dollars (around 2.32 billion US dollars), according to a report by Catastrophe Indices and Quantification (CatIQ), the national insured loss and exposure indices provider on Monday.

Canada experienced 23 events that generated insured losses of over 30 million Canadian dollars during the past 12 months, a record number for the country.

These included the first-ever catastrophe declared in the territories due to an exceptionally active wildfire season across Canada, the report said.

“Last year was one for the record books, not in terms of the overall insured losses, but rather the total number of catastrophes which occurred during the period. In July and August, there were more catastrophes than Canada has previously seen in an entire year,” said Laura Twidle, president and CEO of CatIQ, in a news release. “The country is experiencing the increase in severe events first hand, and collaboration across sectors is becoming more important to mitigate the impacts.”

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) said on Monday that 2023, now the fourth-worst year for insured losses in Canada, was a record-breaking year for wildfires, flooding also continued to cause destruction in nearly every region across Canada.

After surveying insurers, the IBC sees no change in the availability or affordability of wildfire insurance coverage across the country. However, as a result of escalating losses and revised risk modelling, Canada is viewed now as a riskier place to insure, the IBC said in a press release.

Numerous Canadians cannot access flood insurance. It is also becoming harder for some households to obtain insurance for earthquakes and related hazards. The homes and financial health of over 1.5 million Canadians are at higher and growing risk, it added.

France closes roads as cold wave hits

Meanwhile, French authorities temporarily closed two motorways on Tuesday as authorities scrambled to deploy salt trucks and tow vehicles after a cold wave hit the country.

“Everything is being done to resolve this as fast as possible,” Transport Minister Clement Beaune said on Tuesday morning, when 400 vehicles were blocked on icy roads in the Paris region.

Beaune, whose future is uncertain ahead of an expected cabinet reshuffle, argued the national weather agency had not predicted the snow overnight.

He told radio broadcaster RMC that the situation was improving since 1,000 trucks and cars had initially been blocked on the roads near the capital at the start of the night.

The A13 and A12 motorways west of Paris were cordoned off “to guarantee commuters' safety“, police said.

A 10-kilometre stretch of the A13, which connects the capital to western France, would be closed all morning, the transport ministry said.

Thermometers across the country were forecast to drop below zero degrees Celsius on Tuesday, except for a tiny sliver of south-eastern France, according to the national weather office.

Nine departments were on “orange alert” because of icy roads and snow, while two in the north were on the same alert level because of floods last week, it said.

The cold was expected to compound problems in the northern region of Pas-de-Calais near the Belgian border, which has seen devastating floods in recent weeks.

In the northern town of Blendecques, the frosty weather turned mud on the roads to ice.

Two departments in north-west France halted school transport for the day.

On Monday, Deputy Minister for Housing Patrice Vergriete said 120 million euros ($130 million) had been earmarked to provide emergency shelter for some 10,000 homeless people, especially women and children.

Around 3,000 women and children could be in need of shelter, according to estimates by the United Nations children's agency UNICEF and non-governmental organisations.

Xinhua and Agence France-Presse

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