As Fiona eyes Nova Scotia, a look at Canada’s strongest storms of the past

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Hurricane Fiona, a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, is on a collision course with the Canada’s Atlantic maritime provinces.

The storm is likely to be the strongest storm on record in Nova Scotia, by at least the metric of minimum air pressure. It is expected to lash many parts of Atlantic Canada with heavy rain, hurricane-force winds and, at the coast, an ocean surge of more than five feet. Massive ocean waves are anticipated just offshore.

The minimum air pressure record in Nova Scotia is 950.5 millibars, while Fiona is modeled to crash into the Canadian Maritimes at around 930 to 935 millibars. The lowest air pressure recorded in all of Canada is 940 millibars.

Eastern Canada braces for Fiona to be ‘a storm everybody remembers’

Before Fiona makes its mark in Canada’s record book, here are three of the most devastating storms to have previously made landfall.

Hurricane Juan’s passage through Atlantic Canada was unique for several reasons. The storm made landfall in Canada as a Category 2 hurricane, maintaining its tropical characteristics even as it crossed through Nova Scotia and passed over Prince Edward Island.

A cyclone with tropical characteristics is fueled by warm ocean water, while extratropical cyclones get their energy from atmospheric temperature contrasts like fronts.

Fiona, like most Atlantic hurricanes that impact Canada, is currently forecast to lose its tropical characteristics. Juan did not, meaning it hit Canada with sustained winds of 100 miles per hour — nearly at its peak intensity. The storm had a minimum pressure of 969 millibars.

Juan moved through the region quickly but left a trail of devastation, causing $200 million in damage. Eight people were killed by the storm, and Halifax Stanfield International Airport recorded a peak gust of 143 km/h (88 mph), which remains the record-high gust at the airport.

Juan was the first storm name that the Meteorological Service of Canada recommended be retired from usage due to its destruction, a request that was granted by the World Meteorological Organization. The Meteorological Service of Canada has only ever recommended two storms be retired, Juan, and a strong hurricane that struck Newfoundland in 2010, Igor …

Hurricane Igor is widely considered the most destructive hurricane on record to strike Newfoundland. Igor, which was birthed from a tropical wave off the coast of Africa, strengthened into a strong Category 4 storm with winds up of up to 155 mph.

By the time the storm made it to the eastern tip of Newfoundland, it had weakened to a strong Category 1 storm. However, the storm’s ascent to high latitudes while remaining tropical helped to greatly expand its size, becoming the second largest Atlantic hurricane on record with gale-force winds extending 920 miles from the center of the storm, a record only surpassed by Superstorm Sandy.

Igor actually intensified as it tracked closer to Newfoundland, latching onto strong frontal energy as it began transitioning into an extratropical cyclone. Still, the storm made landfall as a tropical system with winds up to 85 miles per hour.

The storm killed four people, including two in Canada. Unlike Juan, which dumped little rain across Canada, Igor thrashed parts of Newfoundland with nearly 9.5 inches of rain, washing out bridges, roads and even homes. About $200 million in damage was reported.

Neither of these two storms were the strongest to make landfall in Atlantic Canada, though. That dubious honor goes to a storm that struck Nova Scotia all the way back in 1968, Ginny.

Hurricane Ginny was the strongest storm to ever impact the Canadian Maritimes by the measure of sustained winds.

Ginny, which made loop-de-loops of the Southeast United States as a Category 1 hurricane before accelerating northeastward and strengthening into a Category 2 storm, slammed into Nova Scotia with maximum sustained winds of nearly 110 miles per hour — right on the cusp of major hurricane status.

Ginny also was unusual in the fact that the storm dropped a significant amount of snow. When it made landfall on Oct. 29, temperatures were cold enough in parts of Canada and the United States to produce snow instead of rain. According to local reporting, nearly four feet of snow fell in parts of Maine, with up to a foot of snow falling in parts of New Brunswick.

The incredibly snowy side of Superstorm Sandy

The storm caused upward of $300,000 of damage in the United States and killed three people, including two who were lost in the early season snowstorm. In Canada, power outages were widespread and strong winds blew down trees and power lines.

These are but three of many notable storms to affect Eastern Canada, which has a long history of powerful tempests.

In 1954, the remnants of Hurricane Hazel became the deadliest hurricane to strike Canada, killing 81 people, according to the Canadian Hurricane Center.

The strongest storm to ever pass through Canadian waters was Hurricane Ella in 1978, which was a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of greater than 130 miles per hour.

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Zach Rosenthal

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