Winnipeg’s Most Extreme Weather Days

Sunday, Aug. 7, 1949
The hottest day in Winnipeg: 40.6°C

The visitors from Chicago came prepared for all contingencies.

Twenty-five of them were making the long train trip from Chicago to Jasper, with a stopover in Winnipeg. In preparation for their first trip to Canada, one of them was carrying four boxes of woolens.

Ultimately, woolens would be the last thing they would need during their stay in the Gateway to the West. It was Sunday, Aug. 7, 1949, roughly the half-way point of the warmer summer months.

Too warm, in fact. A hot, dry air mass had made its way up into Canada from the southern United States, bringing with it record high temperatures, scorching most of the country’s cities except for those along the coasts.

In Winnipeg, it send the thermometer soaring to over 40°C that Sunday, the highest recorded temperature to date.

The city’s efforts to keep cool was putting a strain on the city’s water supply. The previous day, the heat had caused Winnipeggers’ water consumption to rise 20 percent above average Saturday levels.

On Sunday, the worst day of the heat wave, water consumption soared to 60 percent higher than average as city residents, few of whom had air conditioning in their homes, struggled to stay cool.

It was a struggle for the city’s Mounties to keep cool as well. While their City of Winnipeg counterparts had been given permission by the Chief of Police to doff their jackets and work in their shirtsleeves — a rare relaxation of a traditionally strict dress code — RCMP officers were required to wear their red scarlet tunics at all times on account of the fact that RCMP Commissioner S. T. Wood was in town for his annual inspection.

Wood, to his credit, did call off a planned outdoor full-dress parade, conceding that it would be a bit much in the 40°C heat.

Civilians largely stayed out of the way of police in any case. Many fled to the nearest pools they could find. Others paid the 35-cent admission to attend a matinee — still a bargain at $3.47 in 2011 dollars — in one of several air conditioned movie theatres, such as the Garrick Theatre where the comedy Ma and Pa Kettle was showing.

The result was an 85 percent drop in police activity between 8 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday. The exceptions to this included a theft of ice, appropriately enough, from the Brothers Bakery at 831 Magnus Ave., 34 city residents being charged with drunkenness (described colourfully by the Free Press as a “limp looking lot”), and a report of two boys setting sail on a home-made raft on the Red River in Fort Rouge before returning safely to shore.

The heat continued into Monday, but cloudy and cooler weather moved in by Tuesday, bringing the heat wave to an end.

Saturday, Aug. 11, 1962
The worst rains: A month’s worth of precipitation in a single day

It was not a good night for sleeping in Winnipeg in the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 11, 1962. At 2 a.m., it was still 22°C in the city, with 84 percent humidity.

It would get worse. At about 4:15 a.m., the city’s slumber was disturbed by a severe thunderstorm passing over the city.

First there was the intense cloud-to-ground lightning, waking residents up with bright flashes of light and the sound of thunder.

Then the skies opened up and the rain started to fall.

The rain poured down with intensity. Within the storm’s first 10 minutes, a half-inch of rain — 12.7 millimetres, or about one-sixth of the total average rainfall for the month of August — had fallen on the city.

By about 4:45 a.m., 30 minutes after the storm’s arrival, total rainfall had reached one inch, or 25.4 millimetres.

At 5 a.m., it was still raining.

And at 6 a.m. as well.

In fact, it wasn’t until sometime between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. that the thunderstorms finally came to an end. Yet the city was still being soaked by light showers, which continued until about 11 a.m.

The morning brought no relief to Winnipeggers whose sleep had been disturbed by the heat, humidity and thunderstorm. Many found their basements flooded with water.

Some disregarded the danger and waded into the water, including a Kent Road resident who died from electrocution.

For those needing to get around town, transit service was disrupted by the damage that lightning strikes had done to trolley wires throughout the city, while flooded streets caused further problems.

The afternoon brought still more precipitation, as rain started again at 2 p.m. and continued until after 5 p.m.

By the time it was all over, 83.8 millimetres or 3.3 inches of rain had fallen on Winnipeg in a single day — more than normally falls on the city during the entire month of August, a new record.

Thirty-one years later, the city came within a mere two-tenths of a millimetre of breaking the 1962 record when 83.6 millimetres of rain fell on the city on July 25, 1993, amid rains that started at 10 a.m. and continued until 5:30 a.m. the next day.

The city recovered from the Deluge of ’62, but would be faced with a much bigger — and more legendary storm — less than four years later.

Friday, Mar. 4, 1966
The Great Blizzard

“I spent three hours standing on Portage Avenue with a damned transfer in my hand,” an anonymous young woman, one of thousands of Winnipeggers trying in vain to get home, told a Winnipeg Free Press reporter on Friday, Mar. 4, 1966.

The storm had started overnight. At midnight, the city was being buffeted by 52 km/h winds from the north and visibility of just one kilometre.

By 2 a.m., the already powerful winds had increased to 59 km/h and visibility had dropped to just 200 metres.

As the city started to awaken at 6 a.m., visibility was down to zero and the winds were howling at 72 km/h.

Despite the intense snowstorm, some Winnipeggers resolutely did their best to go to work — or to go shopping.

It wasn’t a particularly good idea. At about 8:40 a.m., a multi-vehicle collision on the St. James Bridge closed the road to traffic — and the city’s problems were just starting.

Many companies, recognizing the severity of the storm, had encouraged their employees to stay home. But by 10:30 a.m., the situation was escalating out of control with many streets partially blocked by stranded motorists.

Thus, Mayor Steve Juba officially ordered city residents to stay home if at all possible and to keep the streets clear of unnecessary traffic.

By 11 a.m., the city’s transit service could no longer keep its buses running through the rising snow drifts and was officially shut down.

Then the fun started.

Downtown office workers, realizing that they had little hope of getting home, frantically began calling nearby hotels trying to arrange a room for the night. Soon, the city’s hotels were all completely booked.

The Bay and Eaton’s found themselves with a particularly serious problem on their hands. Despite the weather, hundreds of Winnipeggers had made their way downtown to do some shopping — and then found themselves trapped there after transit service shut down at 11 a.m.

Both stores tried to close at 3:30 p.m. so that staff and customers could get home before dark, but it soon became obvious that many people would have to spend the night in the store.

A surreal feeling must have settled over the city as the thousands of people who couldn’t get home accepted their fate.

At Eaton’s, there were reports of stranded customers and staff wandering the aisles aimlessly while others passed the time chatting, playing cards or making phone calls.

A reporter who checked up on how the Viscount Gort Hotel was coping with the storm was informed that about 100 people were taking part in a sing-along in the bar, while guests at the Marlborough were volunteering as waiters and maids in place of employees who couldn’t make it in.

The Winnipeg Free Press was able to publish newspapers in spite of only about one-third of staff being able to report to work. As these newspapers couldn’t be delivered, however, CKRC 630 announcer Bob Washington took the unprecedented step of reading the newspaper aloud over the radio.

Radio stations also issued appeals for those who could safely do so to deliver food to people stranded in their offices and elsewhere.

As night fell, city residents were encouraged to stay off the jammed phone lines and to leave their porch lights on for the benefit of those trying to navigate their way home in the storm.

Ten people settled in to sleep wherever they could find space at a Polo Park barber shop, while another 15 spent the night sleeping in the offices of Midwest Mining Supplies in St. James.

Eaton’s set up beds for customers, strictly segregated by sex: men slept on the seventh floor, while women slept on the ninth floor.

The residents of a farm house near Horndean, Man., a tiny hamlet east of Winkler, found themselves with plenty of company for the night as passengers of a Grey Goose Bus Lines coach, destined for southwestern Manitoba, needed a place to spend the night after their bus became stranded.

Overnight, conditions gradually improved. By 10 p.m., visibility was greater than one kilometre for the first time in 21 hours. But it took another 12 hours for the city’s transit system to resume service and to start returning weary blizzard refugees to their homes.

It was a storm that brought out the best in Winnipeggers. Strangers forced together by fate became new friends, and kept each others’ spirits up by lending each other food, cigarettes and liquor.

And for those old enough to remember it, Mar. 4, 1966 remains perhaps the most memorable date in the city’s history.

See also: George Siamandas’s Time Machine: The March 4, 1966 Blizzard


Sources: Winnipeg Free Press; Weather Underground; Environment Canada Canadian Climate Normals


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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