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June-in-January

The January 5 1950 edition of the Toronto Daily Star reported on unusually mild weather that winter, blaming it on Russian atomic testing.

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I looked up the weather records for December 1949 and for the winter of 1950 to see whether the temperatures had been unusually mild. I discovered that December 1949 had been warmer than usual: there were five days with a high temperature above 10C, and only one stretch that was unusually cold (December 6 to 10).

The first part of January continued the trend: January 3 had a high of 13.9C, and it was 11.1C on the 4th. There were additional mild days: it was 13.3C on the 13th, 11.7C on the 26th, and a startlingly warm 16.7C on the 25th. After that, things settled down a bit: there were no days in February above 3.3C, and the high temperature on February 20 was -16.1C. So the Soviets’ influence on the weather must have worn out by then.

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Weather oracle

The September 29 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained an article about a 73-year-old Toronto man who claimed that he could predict the weather:

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In the other parts of his forecast, Mr. Radley was quite precise: for example, he predicted that the coolest parts of November would be from the 15th to the 23rd, and December would be coolest from the 8th to the 15th and the 20th to the 27th, with no more than eight inches of snow falling to the end of the year. He also predicted six inches of snow in February.

Out of curiosity, I looked up weather records for 1934 and 1935 for Toronto:

  • October 1934 turned out quite dry, with only one significant rainy day, on the 21st. It didn’t rain at all between the 7th and the 19th.
  • In November 1934, Mr. Radley got it exactly backwards: the week of the 17th to the 23rd was the warmest part of the month, with the temperature hitting 17.2C on November 22.
  • In December, there was a cold snap between December 7 and 11, though the 20th to the 27th was nothing special. But there was a lot more snow than eight inches: by my count, there was more than a foot (36.6 cm) of snow during the rest of 1934.
  • There was (approximately) 37.8 cm of snow, again over a foot of it, in February 1935, so poor Mr. Radley was wrong again.

As for Mr. Radley himself: he had another ten years in which to continue to predict the weather, as he appears in Toronto city directories up to 1944 (moving twice along the way). His widow, Kate, is listed in the 1945 directory.

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Region-specific weather

The December 2 1926 edition of the Toronto Globe contained two articles that indicated that the weather was significantly different in various parts of the country.

The first article indicated that winter was about to arrive early in Ontario:

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Crookston, Minnesota, had it rather tough. If you’re curious, here is the Wikipedia page for Crookston. Test pilot Milt Thompson would have been just shy of seven months old when this cold snap hit.

Compare this to the residents of Newfoundland, who were enjoying an unusually warm late fall:

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I couldn’t find climate data for St. John’s from 1926 on the Environment Canada website, for the simple reason that Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada then. But I did look up Sydney, Nova Scotia, which isn’t all that far away, and it turned out that it was having an unseasonably warm spell in late November, 1926. Between November 15 and 30, there were eight days where the temperature was 10 degrees Celsius or higher, and two days where it peaked at 14.4C. (The average high temperature for Sydney in November is 7.3C, and that’s for the whole month; for the second half, it would be lower.)

December 1 was also unusually warm, with a high of 11.1C, but it rained buckets Р41.1 mm of rain fell there. After that, normal service resumed: there was 5.1 cm of snow on December 3, 12.7 cm of snow on December 4, and a whopping 22.9 cm of snow on December 6. There was also snow on the 9th, rain/snow on the 11th, and 38.1 mm of rain on the 12th, so early December 1926 was miserable in Sydney, and was probably  miserable in Newfoundland as well.

As for Ontario in December 1926: the Toronto data shows a three-day cold spell from the 4th to the 6th, with 15 cm of snow on the 5th. Ottawa’s cold spell was longer, but with less snow.

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Record snowfall

Seventy-four years ago this week, the city of Toronto was digging itself out from a record snowfall: 21 inches of snow fell between December 11 and 12, 1944.

The December 12 1944 edition of the Toronto Daily Star had this headline:

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Other articles on the front page described the effects of the snow in tragic detail:

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Public transit vehicles had trouble getting around:

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Households were advised to go easy on bread and milk, as deliveries were likely to be affected, and funerals were cancelled until the roads were cleared:

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But men and boys of all ages ventured out into the snow:

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And one bride, determined not to miss her wedding day, travelled there on skis:

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I think that it is awesome that the bride and her bridesmaid left their ski suits on for the wedding ceremony.

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May weather extremes

April in Toronto is unpredictable – you can have anything from sunny and warm to major snow and ice storms. Usually, by May, the weather has stabilized a bit. But some years are exceptions.

On May 30, 1929, the Toronto Daily Star reported that Toronto was in the midst of a heat wave:

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According to the weather records that I was able to look up, the high temperature for May 30, 1929 was 32.8C, or 91F. So the all-time record was not broken that day. The weather stayed warm for one more day, reaching 29.4C on May 31, but a cold front came through the next day, with the high temperature only reaching 15.6C.

May 26, 1961 went to the other extreme, as it had snowed the previous day, and there was a strong risk of frost that night:

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This had actually been a rather sudden reversal, as the high temperature for May 25 was 26.1C. I’m not quite sure how it managed to snow on May 25, as the listed overnight low was 9.4C, but the records that I have indicate that yes, it did snow on that day. (It also rained a total of 19.6mm on that day, so I guess a system was blowing air in from the north.)

Gardeners in the Toronto district, at least, dodged a bullet, as the overnight low went down to 0.6C – close, but not right down to the freezing mark. (Outside of the city, farmers and gardeners might not have been so lucky.) The high temperature for that day was only 8.3C, but the temperature rebounded to seasonal shortly after. On May 28, the thermometer reached 24.4C.

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Hot hot hot

During the second week of July 1936, Toronto was hotter than it had ever been before or has ever been since. According to the Environment Canada records, the temperature reached 40.6C on July 8, 9, and 10.

Naturally, the heat was the leading topic in the Toronto Daily Star for July 10 1936:

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By July 10, 22 people had died in Ontario. The temperature had reached 103.7F by the time the Daily Star went to press (it was an evening paper at the time).

In Hamilton, it was even worse, as the temperature peaked at 108F, and factories were forced to cut back or shut down to protect their workers:

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Five cities in Ontario topped 100F (assuming they got Brantford right, which was listed at both 99F and 100F). And several cities in the United States also hit three digits, and some western Canada cities pushed into the 90s:

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It was so hot that:

  • Touching a cold bottle could cause it to shatter in a person’s hand.
  • Bees became homeless when wax from honeycombs melted and sealed the entrance to their hives.
  • Railway workers had to wear gloves to be able to handle steel rails.
  • And, yes, someone was able to fry eggs and bacon:

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The Star’s editorial page listed the previous days that had gone over 100F since 1911. There hadn’t been many:

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Naturally, advertisers were eager to offer suggestions on how to deal with the heat. Movie theatres that were air-conditioned proudly advertised the fact. And the makers of Eno’s Fruit Salt offered this suggestion for “coolth”:

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The overnight low for July 10 was 25.6C, which was the highest overnight low temperature of the heat wave. This meant that the July 11 Toronto Daily Star headline featured more grim heat-related news:

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The heat wave continued for several more days after this, with the highs for the next six days being 35.6C, 33.3C, 37.8C, 33.3C, 30.6C, and 31.1C. July 29 would have seemed blissfully cool, as the high that day was only 20C.